Winter 2004

on the social science wars

Jennifer Lucy Hochschild

Jennifer Hochschild, a Fellow of the American Academy since 1996, is Henry LaBarre Jayne Professor of Government at Harvard University, with a joint appointment in the department of African and African American studies. She is the founding editor of “Perspectives on Politics.” Her books include “The American Dream and the Public Schools” (with Nathan Scovronick, 2003), “Facing Up to the American Dream: Race, Class, and the Soul of the Nation” (1995), and “What's Fair: American Beliefs about Distributive Justice” (1981).

In the spring of 2003, as the founding editor of Perspectives on Politics, I helped to launch the first new journal sponsored by the American Political Science Association (APSA) in over a century. The new journal grew out of the general disaffection that had been floating around the discipline for years. In political science (as in other social sciences from economics to anthropology) a cold war has persisted for years between researchers who want to push the discipline in the direction of the ‘real’ sciences and those who want to maintain its roots in the humanities–and the new journal was, in part, meant to heal the rift.

APSA acknowledged dissatisfaction after analyzing a 1998 survey of its members and ex-members. Over two-fifths of the current members who responded, and half of the former members who responded, criticized the Association’s flagship journal, the American Political Science Review (APSR); it headed the list of APSA activities with which respondents were unhappy. For example, individual respondents wrote that the APSR only “covers one small corner of the discipline,” that it is “virtually useless for my teaching preparations and research specializations,” and that it is not “reflective of the range of research methods and approaches in the discipline.” The Association’s report concluded that many political scientists saw the APSR as “too narrow, too specialized and methodological, and too removed from politics.”

In short, some of the most prominent members of the discipline, as judged by their appearance in its most selective and prestigious journal, were developing a new type of ‘science’ that left other members of the discipline feeling angry, unimpressed, and disfranchised.

Several years later the Association’s governing council approved the creation of a new journal and eventually selected me to serve as its first editor. The new journal’s mission would be to publish “integrative essays” that are less specialized than normal research articles and that might “appl[y] . . . political science to questions of public policy.” The committee charged with implementing the council’s directive added further mandates: the new journal should also include “state-of-the-discipline type essays, book reviews, reviews of literature . . .

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