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Political Science at Edinboro University

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Political Science at Edinboro University

The political science program at Edinboro University is a combination of rigorous coursework, close faculty-student interaction, an exciting internship experience, and fun extracurricular activities.  Political science majors at Edinboro expand their intellectual horizons, develop marketable skills, and ultimately pursue exciting and fulfilling career opportunities. 

Explore the web site for more information about our program. Feel free as well to call, send an e-mail, or stop by the department office.  

What is politics?

Politics is defined several ways; one common definition is that it is “the authoritative allocation of values in a society.” What this means is that politics is the social process of using power, in particular government power, to distribute and regulate things of value in a society, such as material goods, natural resources, and the beliefs and actions of individuals or groups. The study of politics, therefore, encompasses a wide range of phenomena, such as the nature of war, diplomacy, and trade; the creation, implementation, and impact of government policies; the distinct and often infuriating behavior of politicians; the attempt to secure individual rights and freedoms; and the sometimes elusive quest for justice by individuals, groups, and whole societies. Pick any complex, controversial issue—abortion, free speech, human rights, taxes, terrorism—and political scientists will have something to say about it. 

Why is political science a "science"?

Science usually conjures up images of laboratories, chemical reactions, etc.  Science, however, isn’t limited to areas of study like physics, chemistry, or astronomy.  Science is actually a method of inquiry, a way of looking at the world that (scientists think) produces more accurate and believable observations about the world.  Social sciences, such as political science, sociology, and criminal justice study the behavior of individuals and groups.  Political science is not able to reduce human behavior to a set of simple laws; people are too variable and unpredictable.  Still, studying politics “scientifically” reduces the danger of bias or sloppiness in one’s thinking and often produces revealing observations about the world.  The complexity of human behavior and interaction is part of what makes social science fascinating work.

Being a political scientist, therefore, is not just a matter of watching the news and knowing a lot about current events. Political scientists possess distinct analytical skills, and a political science program like Edinboro's trains students to be more disciplined, critical, and systematic evaluators of political phenomena. Political science majors do know a lot about current events, but they attempt to analyze those events in a more thoughtful and revealing way.

Political science is "multi-disciplinary"

Political science is multi-disciplinary; in other words, “doing” political science requires drawing on the knowledge and perspectives of several scholarly disciplines. Political scientists use history, economics, sociology, psychology, anthropology, philosophy, and law in an effort to understand the dynamics of politics. Students who study political science, therefore, are broadly educated; political science in itself provides a “liberal arts” education. For the same reason, politcal science students take their general education courses seriously, as they directly affect their development as political analysts. 

Areas of study in political science

Political science can be divided, somewhat artificially, into several areas of study.

Comparative politics is an examination of political behavior and political institutions that appear in most or all political systems.  The basic premise of comparative politics is that the political system of any one country/nation will be better understood by comparing that system with other political systems; this is the “comparative method.”  Comparative politics courses usually focus on a particular topic (e.g., comparative law and judicial systems) or on a particular area of the world (e.g., government and politics of Latin America)(referred to as “area studies”).

American politics scholars focus on the American political system.  American politics courses are roughly divided into three categories.  Some courses focus on the structure and operation of particular political institutions (e.g., Congress).  Other courses focus on the political behavior of individuals or groups (e.g., American political parties and political behavior).  Finally, some courses focus on a particular political issue or policy (e.g., women in politics).

International relations (IR) scholars study the interaction of governments, and more generally political phenomena, that occur across countries.  While comparative politics scholars analyze domestic (or within-country) political phenomena through comparison of many political systems, international relations scholars analyze the relationship among those countries’ governments. Students in courses such as “national defense and security,” “American foreign policy,” and “International law and organizations” study IR.

Political theory takes a more explicitly philosophical and theoretical approach to the study of politics.  While other areas of political science tend to be largely empirical (i.e., describing and explaining the way things are), political theory is often normative (i.e., discusses the way things should be).  For example, political theorists attempt to define and evaluate major political concepts such as justice, law, equality, power, democracy, and freedom.  Political theory courses examine the history of political theory, a particular topic in political theory (e.g., jurisprudence), and also general methods of political analysis central to the work of political science.

Research methods is a “support” field within political science.  A methodologist focuses on developing methods that political scientists in any field can use to study political phenomena; they attempt to improve the science of “political science.”  All political scientists develop research skills that allow them to examine political phenomena systematically and, as best they can, objectively.

Public administration is the study of how governments execute policy; it is the study of bureaucracies.  Scholars who study public administration believe that bureaucracies (the government institutions that carry out government policy choices) behave in distinctive ways that can be described and explained.

Law and politics
scholars study law and legal systems.  Courses in law and politics may focus on a particular area of the law (e.g., constitutional law), may focus on the structure and behavior of particular legal institutions (e.g., prosecution and the courts), or may examine the law from a philosophical perspective (e.g., jurisprudence).