Becoming comfortable on unsteady ground: Knowledge, perspective, and the science of politics
AdvisorNederman, Cary J.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThis dissertation critically appraises the scientific identity of the discipline of political science. In it, I argue that in spite of the proclamations indicating the death of positivism, the spirit of positivism still reigns in the discipline's construction of science. The positivist state of the discipline carries with it, among other things, a belief in a world "out there" to be studied, understood and known completely. This entails faith that fact and value, subject and object, knower and known can all be reliably separated and that neutral and objective knowledge can build on itself in a progression toward the truth of political affairs. Mainstream political scientists, the bulk of the discipline's members, I contend, still embrace this positivist view of the world, a view that includes ontological and epistemological presuppositions that I find to be untenable. In support of my conviction I appeal to the hermeneutic perspective that Heidegger and Gadamer encourage and connect it to the critical theory approach of Habermas and Fay, to the postmodern approach of Derrida and Foucault and to various feminist perspectives. My goal is to (re)construct the scientific identity of the discipline in ways that are epistemologically and ontologically more tenable for what I take to be a complicated social and political world. Ultimately, I settle on Donna Haraway's notion of "situated knowledges" as the most useful alternative (re)construction of science for the discipline of political science. Situated knowledges grasp and embrace the complex nature of the world. They deny the existence of any of the dichotomies that positivism holds dear, they insist on the interpretive and contextual nature of knowledge, and they demand that we understand knowledge to be partial, perspectival and contestable. In these ways, situated knowledges compel us to take responsibility for our knowledge claims and to become accountable for how those claims are used. These are vital issues for a discipline such as political science, a discipline that professes, in these "postbehavioral" days, to be relevant for contemporary political practices.
Degree ProgramGraduate College