Editor’s Note: This article was written by former ADV author and editor-in-chief Iva Kopraleva.
Two articles have been published so far on A Different View by my colleagues John Raymond Jison and Sergiu Delcea with relation to series of very important questions: What should be the role of the contemporary political scientist? Should she merely analyse the political science events, developments and phenomena or should she also prescribe solutions to the problems which arise? And ultimately, why do political scientists seem to remain backstage actors despite their extensive expertise in the field? While both of my colleagues include in their analyses a number of interesting and convincing points, I would like to turn your attention to one additional aspect of this discussion, namely the unique nature of politics.
Politics has unique inherent properties which should not be neglected when analysing the role of the political scientists today. Politics is often associated with, or expected to solve, the most sensitive problems in a society. Understandably, the word politics often has a negative connotation in the minds of people. Politicians are largely regarded as dishonest, hypocritical, and driven by self-interest. In addition, in every political system, there are certain ideological elements which are not necessarily rational or, in extreme cases, even subjected to any form of critical assessment. In this context, politics outside of academia is very much a matter of personal opinion and very little a subject of an informed (at least to the extent that this is possible) discussion. But why does this matter when it comes to political scientists?
There are two important consequences of the arguments presented before which explain: 1) why political scientists should, in fact, come out from their ‘Ivory Towers’ and start contributing to the solution of political science problems in the ‘real world’ (that is to say, engage in debates outside of the academic conferences and the peer-reviewed publications) and 2) why are they (or at least some of them) so reluctant to do so.
Firstly, the lack of informed discussions on important political science topics creates a number of serious problems including misperceptions, possibility for manipulation of the public opinion and, ultimately, results in politicians telling people what they want to hear. One could argue that electoral sanction is one mechanism to mitigate these problems. After all, if politicians promise more than what they can realistically accomplish, they have little chance of being re-elected. This is, however, a post-factum control mechanism which can only be put in place once every 3-4-5 years. One could easily see the need for on-going control over the actions of politicians. Clearly, one of the indispensable functions of the opposition in a democracy is to act as such an on-going control mechanism by scrutinizing the actions of those in power. But how can we really rely on the opposition, whose obvious goal is to win the next elections, to provide us with objective and impartial political analyses? The need for political science experts to guide the public debate is self-evident at this point and political scientists are arguably best suited to embark this role due to their extensive analytical and puzzle-solving abilities. After all, they spend their entire careers asking and answering research questions. But then, why are a large number of political scientists reluctant to step in and actively participate in the public debate?
Once again, the answer lies in the unique nature of politics. Analysing and explaining political events or phenomena which have already occurred is what political scientists normally do. In other words, the ‘why?’ question is often asked (along with the ‘how?’ and ‘what?’ questions) but only in a context where it can be answered with the evidence at hand. Framing the analysis in this manner is considered ‘the scientific way to go’ and deviating from this norm is tolerated rarely and only in the form of a single paragraph in the conclusion of the research article outlining the future ‘real world’ implications of the topic at hand. Given the fact that political scientists abide by these rules during their whole careers and build their reputation on the quality of their published work, it is understandable why they might prefer not to engage in prescriptions for or predictions of the future, especially when it comes to a topic as sensitive as politics.
In conclusion, both the reason why we need political scientists in our public debates and the reason why they appear to be missing from the public sphere link back to the unique properties of politics in our society.
Image source: Mr.TinDC