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Political Science Research

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[Old Nassau, Princeton University - Office of Communication]


- Politics is an Art of Improbabilities and Impossibilities

Otto Von Bismarck once said, “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable – the art of the next best.” Some qualify that it is also the art of the impossible. 

The twists and turns of things happen due to some unforeseen circumstances, and many times, the triggers come from the most unexpected places. The "art of the possible" is the idea that politics is a matter of pragmatism, not idealism. 

According to this worldview, politics is a matter of creating achievable goals and implementing them in the real world.


- Comparative Politics

Comparative politics is the comparative study of other countries, citizens, different political units either in whole or in part, and analyzes the similarities and differences between those political units. Comparative politics also entails the political study of non-US political thought.

Scholars of comparative politics study a range of topics, from the causes of civil war to the efficient provision of public goods. The field includes cross-country and cross-regional research, as well as "domestic" research that assesses differences between states, territories or towns or across policy areas. 

Comparativists draw on a variety of methods—including qualitative and quantitative analysis—and often develop country- or region-specific expertise in the course of their work. This knowledge is important for accurate description and for theory building and testing; it also helps uncover causal relationships that immersion in our own society and culture may lead us to overlook.

Some examples of comparative politics are studying the differences between presidential and parliamentary systems, democracies and dictatorships, parliamentary systems in different countries, multi-party systems such as Canada and two-party systems such as the United States.


- International Relations

International relations attempts to explain the interactions of states in the global interstate system, and it also attempts to explain the interactions of others whose behavior originates within one country and is targeted toward members of other countries. In short, the study of international relations is an attempt to explain behavior that occurs across the boundaries of states, the broader relationships of which such behavior is a part, and the institutions (private, state, nongovernmental, and intergovernmental) that oversee those interactions. 

Explanations of that behavior may be sought at any level of human aggregation. Some look to psychological and social-psychological understandings of why foreign policymakers act as they do. Others investigate institutional processes and politics as factors contributing to the externally directed goals and behavior of states. Alternatively, explanations may be found in the relationships between and among the participants (for example, balance of power), in the intergovernmental arrangements among states (for example, collective security), in the activities of multinational corporations (for example, the distribution of wealth), or in the distribution of power and control in the world as a single system. 


[Europe - Library of Congress]

- Political Theory

Compares and evaluates alternative ideas of justice, legitimacy, and the common good as they apply to the institutions and conduct of domestic and global life. Political theory involves the study of the history of political thought as well as problems in contemporary political life that have a philosophical dimension.

Political Theory helps us better understand the concepts that have shaped our politics, including freedom, equality, individuality, democracy and justice. Importantly, Political Theory is the part of Political Science that explores what a better political world would look like and how we can create it. Political Theory thus frequently involves critiques of our present political reality, and may even take explicitly political positions. 

Indeed, whether we study philosophical treatises, political pamphlets or speeches, Political Theory always involves a reflection on one’s own and others’ political principles. The hope is that such critical reflection can contribute to all of us becoming more engaged citizens.


- Public Law

The study of the politics of law and courts. The political science field of Public Law seeks to broadly comprehend how legal systems and actors influence and are influenced by politics and society. 

Public Law is concerned with the analysis of the actual behavior of legal decision-makers and the law-related behavior of citizens, as well as with the study of legal and constitutional doctrine. It seeks to develop an understanding of the role of law, legal theory and legal practice in the governmental process. Courses and faculty research focus primarily on how the actions of legal decision-makers (judges, police, regulatory officials, bureaucrats, etc.) are shaped both by legal doctrine and philosophy and by political, organizational, economic, and social variables.


- Formal Theory and Quantitative Methods

Utilizes deductive, mathematical techniques and statistical methods to form and test theories, investigate political events and discover empirical generalizations. Quantitative methods principally combines statistics, mathematics, and formal theory as tools for positive research in political science. It is a data-driven approach in which collection, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of numerical data provides inferences and insights into key political questions.

Political scientists have added rigorous mathematical techniques to their social-science toolbox, creating methods to explain -- and even predict -- the actions of adversaries, thus making society safer as well as smarter. Understanding the statistical methods that are typically used in political science requires an understanding of calculus, probability, statistics, linear algebra, microeconomics, macroeconomics, economic mathematics, and econometrics.


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