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Horse Race Political Science

- July 16, 2010

Another entry on the Hacker-Pierson special issue. Political scientists (including us folks at _The Monkey Cage_ ) often jibe at journalists for being obsessed with “horse race politics.” Perhaps we should be looking in a mirror. Hacker and Pierson put the shoe on the other foot, arguing that a foolish obsession with electoral outcomes is in fact a common characteristic of Americanist political science. While giving credit to the achievements of Americanists, they suggest that:

bq. In explaining the peculiar blindness among scholars of American politics to con- temporary issues of political economy, we would give even more emphasis than Block and Piven do to the spread of “scientific” aspirations that celebrate an emphasis on quantification and technical skills, along with a studied (and intellectually debilitating) neutrality that has marginalized essential concepts like “business” and “labor.” A second important factor has been the intellectual fallout from creating a very large research community that first hived American politics off from the study of other countries and then divided the subject matter into a large number of narrow subcommunities (“Con- gress,” “interest groups,” “parties”), none of which were organized around substantive politics. Despite their self-confidence, mainstream Americanists have paid a huge, largely unacknowledged price for their particular pattern of intellectual specialization.

As a comparative political economy guy, who sort of sidled into IPE (and occasionally moonlights elsewhere), I have to say that I’m mostly convinced by this analysis. Even American Political Development, which has a lot of interesting things to say, has a marked tendency towards the study of the internal dynamics of particular organizations, rather than the external consequences for the US political economy. It’s good to see that people (including not only Hacker and Pierson, but also a bunch of mainline Americanists and a couple of economists and sociologists) are beginning to get directly engaged in debate about the US political economy. But you have to wonder why it took so long.