Jump to content

Department Nomenclature


Recommended Posts

Perhaps a frivolous question asked out of boredom, but anyone have any thoughts/knowledge on why there are a number of different names for political science departments? Is it historical quirk, intentional action for various purposes? Do you suppose different labels can sometimes say something significant about a department?

Some examples:

Department of...

Political Science

Politics (e.g., Princeton)

Government (e.g., Harvard)

Politics and Government / Government and Politics

Political Studies

Political Science and International Relations

Of course, the vast majority are 'political science', but I still think there's more variation in our discipline than other social sciences such as economics or psychology. I may very well be out to lunch. Just tell me if that's the case.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think (entirely speculatively) that it's all of the above. Some departments, Brandeis for example, are explicit about their intentions. From the Brandeis website:

We are self-consciously a department of "politics"; that is, a department that seeks to encourage students to investigate important real-world problems. The undergraduate curriculum aims to develop the knowledge necessary for the engaged analysis of political theories, institutions and conflicts throughout history and worldwide.

In practice, that means they encourage small-n over large. NYU is on the other side (ironically, they are a "department of politics"):

The department has expertise in many different substantive fields, but is distinctive as a political science department whose members share a concern for confronting theoretically rigorous models with high quality empirical data, analyzed in methodologically sophisticated ways.

Ours is a young discipline often characterized by identity crises. Some care passionately about the science of politics and wish others would view the discipline similarly, while others obviously disagree. I think some select the name to make a statement about the nature of the discipline. There are still some liberal arts colleges that classify political science (or politics) as a humanity, a characterization that reflects a certain perspective about the nature of political research. For career researchers, such a characterization is a statement about the nature of their vocation. I think some take issue with a classification of their work as outside the realms of science, particularly those committed to empiricism.

Then there are the strange outliers like Harvard and their classification as a department of government. I have no idea why they chose that name. The "political science and IR" label is, I believe, a response to the relative youth of IR as a subfield.

I'm not sure why this seems unique to political science compared to other social sciences. The methodological debate is present in other disciplines (econ, particularly over the last couple of years), though I'm not sure if it is similarly divisive. I have no idea why someone has yet to suggest a renaming of economics to "Economic Science."

Edited by Tufnel
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...

Important Information

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use