Political Science: Art, Science, or the Ultimate “Everything” Degree?

Study politics in ItalyFor students who love to follow current affairs, debate domestic and international policy, and track movements that make or break governments – this is a very exciting time to study political science in Italy.

As the birthplace of the European Union, capital of both a political state and a religious faith, and home to three UN food development programs, Rome is a tremendous vantage point from which to analyze power structures throughout the Mediterranean and across the globe. Political Science students who study abroad in Rome enjoy immersion in a thriving international city where they experience first-hand the impact of globalization on policy-making.  Attracting dignitaries, scholars, politicians, and lobbyists from around the world, Rome is truly a hub for international affairs.

But as our political structures (and our analyses of them) grow more complex, many poly sci fans are questioning the very nature of the subject area. Is Political Science truly a “science,” or is it better categorized as an “art?” Read on to learn more about the debate, and decide for yourself.

A Case for Science

Most agree that political science can’t really be considered an exact science, like mathematics or physics. However, the study of how humans govern themselves could certainly fall under the heading of social science and keep company with disciplines like sociology, psychology, and economics.

Those who favor the “science” in poly sci often refer to its reliance on the scientific method to analyze political phenomena – a process governed by specific rules such as: take nothing for granted; all general conclusions must be based on observed facts; no generalization should ever be accepted as final; and that objectivity be maintained at all times.

It’s this last rule that generally lights the spark among those who favor a broader, “arts” interpretation of political science. After all, how neutral or objective can humans truly be when it comes to events that directly shape all of our lives?

In Favor of Arts

The Oxford dictionary defines art as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination.” In-depth knowledge of political theory and history could be applied to the highly creative process of say, drafting a constitution or bill or rights. Students of politics at an American college in Rome could go on help write new laws, negotiate treaties, and build diplomatic relationships – tasks that require imagination and in many cases, improvisation, and could certainly be considered “expressions of human creative skill” toward a practical end.

Of course, bias and subjectivity are inherent in these political acts, as they are embedded in any analysis of political events. It’s virtually impossible for us to keep our own preferences and experiences out of our analyses. A quick scan of the daily news is all it takes to see how personal interest impacts public policy!

The Best of Both Worlds

To a certain extent, following the scientific method when analyzing political structures serves us well. Experts systematically evaluate processes (remaining as objective as possible) and then deliver results to policy-makers who do their best to improve government.  But some would argue that this is only half the story – half the fascination – of pursuing a career in political science. The rest of the discipline involves accepting and looking more closely at the biases that drive policy-making, and how our own personal beliefs impact the way we interpret pivotal events and movements.

In this sense, to be a student of political science requires an inward journey – an analysis of our own morals: how we were raised, the social norms to which we conform, whether we align closer to the right than to the left, etc.  Students learn about themselves as much as they study how countries make rules and get along with one another. And so we might say that political science lies at the intersection of art and science, combining philosophical introspection with systematic outward analysis. In short, it’s the ultimate “everything” degree!

Are you considering studying Political Science? What inspires you most about this ever-evolving field?

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