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Chapter: 11th Political Science : Chapter 1 : Introduction of Political Science

Approaches to the Study of Political Science

An approach is the way of looking at a political phenomenon and then explaining it.

Approaches to the Study of Political Science

An approach is the way of looking at a political phenomenon and then explaining it. The approaches and methods to the study of Political Science are many. There are both traditional and modern or scientific approaches. The traditional approaches are highly speculative and normative and the modern approaches are more empirical and scientific in nature.


I. Traditional Approaches


i. Philosophical Approach

It is the oldest approach to the study of politics. It is also known as speculative, metaphysical or ethical approach. The study of state, government and the political behaviour of man is intricately linked with the quest for achieving certain goals, morals or truths. Here, the discipline moves closer to the world of ethics. The approach is criticized for being highly speculative and abstract.


ii.Historical Approach

This approach throws light on the past and traces the origin and development of the political institutions. It seeks to study the role of individuals and their motives, accomplishments and failures in the past and its implications for the future. In understanding the political issues of today, the help of historical parallels are sought. However, critics argue that historical parallels can be illuminating, but at the same time they can also be misleading as it is loaded with superficial resemblances.


iii. Legal Approach

The study of politics is linked with the study of legal institutions created by the State for the maintenance of the political organization. As the State is engaged in the maintenance of law and order, the study of judicial institutions become the concern of political theorists. This approach looks at the State as an organization primarily concerned with the creation and enforcement of law. However, critics argue that this approach has a narrow perspective. The State has various other functions to perform other than enforcement of law and order. Laws deal with only one aspect of an individual’s life and do not enable the complete understanding of his political behaviour.


iv. Institutional Approach 

This approach is also known as the structural approach. It lays stress on the formal structures of the political organization such as legislature, executive and judiciary. The informal structures are also studied and a comparative study of the governmental systems are encouraged. However, this approach is criticized for laying too much emphasis on formal and informal structures and ignoring the role of individual in those institutions.



II. Modern Approaches


i. Sociological Approach

This approach emphasizes on the understanding of the social context to explain the political behaviour of the members of the community. The state is considered primarily as a social organism and politics is understood through the sociological factors. But critics are of the opinion that too much of emphasis on the social context can affect the very autonomy of the discipline. 


ii. Psychological Approach

This approach studies and explains political and social institutions through psychological laws. It assumes that the psychological analysis of political leaders reveals significant knowledge about politics. However, this approach ignores the sociological, legal and economic factors in the study of politics.


iii. Economic Approach

As matters pertaining to production and distribution of goods are regulated by the State, the economic matters also become a concern for the political theorists. This approach emphasizes on the role of the State in regulating the economic matters and argues that economic affairs are intimately linked to the political process of the State. The approach is inclined towards linking and understanding the political and economic life of individuals. However, the approach takes into account only the economic factors and ignores other factors such as social and psychological factors.


iv. Behavioural Approach

This approach focuses on political behaviour and studies the attitudes and preferences of humans in the political context. Thus, the study of politics moved its focus from formalism and normativism to the study of political behaviour. However, critics argue that this approach is based on a false conception of scientific methods.


v. Marxist Approach

This approach is basically different from the other modern approaches. It perceives State as an inevitable consequence of class contradictions. It assumes that there is a continuous interaction between the political and economic forces and separating one from the other is not possible. However, this approach gives undue importance to the economic factors and ignores the other important factors.


After careful analysis of the approaches, it is understood that each approach has its own relevance in the study of political phenomenon and also suffer from certain limitations.


III. Relationship with other Social Sciences


i. Political Science and History

The state and its institutions are a product of slow historical growth and Political Science uses historical facts to discover general laws and principles. Political History is the narrative of political events and movements. The relationship between History and Political Science is well explained by Freeman as he says ‘History is past Politics and Politics is present History’. John Seeley adds to it through his quote, ‘History without Political Science has no fruit, Political Science without History has no root’.


ii. Political Science and Economics

Economics was considered a branch of Political Science and in fact, the Greeks called Political Science by the name of Political Economy. Political Economy attempts to understand how political institutions, political environment and economy influence each other. Historians have explained as to how groups with common economic interests have utilized the political process and environment to effect changes for their own benefit. The study of Political Science and Economics are directed towards the same end providing the best possible life for its people.

iii. Political Science and Ethics

Philosophy is closely associated with ethics. Ethics deals with morality and formulates rules and regulations governing the behaviour of individuals in the society. Ethics is the science of moral order and Political Science is the science of political order. Both Political Science and Ethics aim at the noble and righteous life of humans.


iv. Political Science and Sociology

Political Science and Sociology are intimately related and it is Sociology that provides the basic information regarding the origin and evolution of state and other political institutions. Political Science is also called as Policy Science and policies of the State cannot be formulated without the careful analysis of the social needs of the people. Political Science provides information to Sociology about the organization and functions of the state and how the policies and programmes of the State affect the society at large.


v. Political Science and Psychology

Psychology deals with all the aspects of human behaviour while Political Science deals only with the political behaviour of humans. Psychology throws light on why individuals and groups behave in a certain manner. It aids Political Science in understanding the behaviour of political parties and varied other groups in the state. Barker rightly says, ‘The application of psychological clue to the riddles of human activity has indeed become the fashion of the day. If our forefathers thought biologically, we think psychologically’.


vi. Political Science and Public Administration

Political Science is closely related to Public Administration and in fact, the term ‘public’ denotes ‘government’ though Public Administration also includes the study of non-governmental organizations. Public Administration is the implementation of governmental policies and Political Science deals with the process of policy formulation. There is a similarity in the objective of Political Science and Public Administration as they both aim at optimum use of resources and social welfare.


Thus, we understand that Political Science is the systematic study of governance by the application of empirical and scientific methods of analysis. Though it involves empirical investigations, it does not generally produce precise predictions. Political Science examines the state and its organs and institutions. It also encompasses the study of societal, cultural, economic and psychological factors that influence the government. It borrows heavily from the other social sciences but its focus on power differentiates it from the other disciplines. Apart from power, Political Science also focuses on comparative politics, international relations, political theory, public law and public policy. Most importantly, the study of Political Science gives us the basic understanding of the political process, the system of government and the way in which it affects the life of every citizen.



Write a short note on how politics affects your daily life.


Collect pictures on the life and works of your favorite political thinker and explain to the class about his contributions to the discipline.


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