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Political theory is regularly declared to be in crisis, and the cyclicity of the announcement is an indication of the discipline's vitality. The underlying cause of political theory's precarious state is its uneasy relationship with political science's quantitative and experimental methods and positivistic mentality. This paper examines the basic tension between political theory and the rest of political science throuzh the problem of democracy, and it argues that it is democracy itself that makes political theory vital and irreplaceable.
Political theory's precarity today reflects the successful use of (quantitative and experimental) scientific methods in the studies of social groups and political relations, and the sunset of the pluralist aspirations of the end of the century. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the winds of "perestroika"—the motto with which Mikhael Gorbachev opened the democratisation of the Soviet socialism—also blew through American political science. The contestation of methodological homogeneity known as "the Perestroika movement" involved a notable transformation in the discipline. Political theory was recognised as one of the sub-fields, equal to international relations, comparative politics and American politics. For some years, scholars spoke of "methods" in the plural to recognise the legitimacy and relevance of "qualitative" (interpretative, historical, and morally normative) methods. The scientific branches of political science recognised and accepted that political theory was essentially part of the humanities, and thus skeptical of the hegemony of quantitative methods…

  • Perestroika
  • methods in political science
  • pluralism
  • democratic theory and study
Nadia Urbinati
Nadia Urbinati is a political scientist and professor at Columbia University. She is a specialist in democratic and anti-democratic topics in modern and contemporary times. She is the author of numerous books and articles, including Representative Democracy: Principles and Genealogy (University of Chicago Press, 2006). Her most recent publication is Me the People. How Populism Transforms Democracy (Harvard University Press, 2019).
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