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Updated references, expanded discussion of "Behavioralism in a Post-Behavioralist Era. The previous version of this content can be found here. All Rights Reserved.
Keywords: Chicago School , Cybernetics , Easton , Epistemology , international system , Kaplan , Methodology , Models , neo positivism , Quantitativism , Realism , Reflexivity , second debate , science , systems theory , theory , values Introduction Behavioralism is a paradigm that became predominant in American social sciences from the s until well into the s. Grounded in a belief in the unity of science and the unity of human behavior, Behavioralist scholars developed scientific, quantitative methodologies for the study of political processes and opened up the discipline to a wide range of theories and methods imported from the social and mathematical sciences.
Because they believed that political phenomena could be subjected to the methods of science, Behavioralists turned their back on the normative legacy of the discipline and replaced political philosophy with the philosophy of science, thereby setting new standards for the formulation of concepts, hypotheses, theories, and protocols for empirical testing and explanation building.
The first is to present the tenets of this school of thought independently of the specific socio-intellectual context of both the American society and the American Academy, thereby offering an unreflexive, de-contextualized, and ahistorical account that fails to convey the relationship between cognitive consensus and socio-historical constraints, and that simultaneously fails to reconstruct the meaning this particular research program had for its main actors and opponents.
At a second, related level, one has to avoid succumbing to the existent disciplinary narrative of IR, a social science that views and tells its story as a succession of great debates, with all the dichotomies, oppositions, and narratives of exclusion and conflict such written history entails.
While this can be said of all the theories, paradigms, and cognitive doctrines that populate IR textbooks, it is especially problematic for Behavioralism, which is often viewed as having professionalized the discipline Waever, Any reference to Behavioralism will therefore be inevitably inscribed in intellectual and discursive strategies that aim to assess the development of IR as a cognitive field of production, as well as its identity as an autonomous academic discipline.
With these problems and constraints in mind, this article presents Behavioralism as a historical contribution to, and reflection on, recurrent and fundamental epistemic problems in the field.
It then moves more specifically to Behavioralism in IR, and to the terms of its second debate. Behavioralism in Context: An American School of Thought Behavioralism finds its disciplinary and intellectual roots in Behaviorism, a school of psychology founded by James B. Watson and influenced by the work of physiologist Jacques Loeb Lasswell, , p. The logic of extracting the study of human beings from introspection and from the limited and problematic understanding of the inner workings of the human mind and volition became particularly attractive for social psychologists, who considered that, unlike intentions, motivations, ideas, or beliefs, behavior could be understood with a great measure of rigor and objectivity if the right scientific methods were applied.
On the differences between Behaviorism and Behavioralism, see Easton, In the United States, Behavioralism spread from psychology to the rest of the social sciences, gaining a stronghold at the University of Chicago, which became, from the s onward, a place where some of the leading Behavioralists coexisted with some of their most renown and strongest opponents. In political science, the Chicago School, led by Charles E.
Merriam, had since the s explicitly criticised the established tradition of institutionalism for its limitations and its inability to produce a rigorous understanding of political processes Truman, , p. Americans respect science and technology, and our specialists in political science dream of a field where authority is founded on experimental results and not on dialectic alone.
Lasswell, , p. In post America, government officials needed reliable input from scientific disciplines that would help them understand the roots and causes of different social, national, and international problems, assess their possibilities for action, and predict or anticipate future outcomes and changes.
At the time, economics was the only social science to have gained such credibility in the eyes of academics and politicians alike. American social scientists were also keen to demonstrate the relevance of their fields of study for practical social problems.
Quantitative studies were themselves facilitated by the development and wider application of computers, which made it possible to use complex mathematical and statistical computations. Behavioralist political scientists imported from other disciplines the successful methods they thought would ground their analyses in scientific and rigorous methodologies.
This explains the emergence of a new generation of scholars who were trained in areas that had never before been relevant to political science itself, such as mathematics, physics, biology, economics, sociology, and psychology. The specific impact on American political science of sociology and psychology was also triggered by the arrival in the s of a significant number of European—mainly German—immigrants, who brought with them a new intellectual culture that exposed their American colleagues to the works of Weber, Marx, Durkheim, Freud, Pareto, and others, to a new philosophy of knowledge logical positivism , and to a wide range of analytical concepts and social theories that would be crucial to the development of Behavioral science Dahl, , p.
Most of these European scholars were in fact radically opposed to Behavioralism Gunnell, , , with the notable exceptions of Heinz Eulau and Karl Deutsch. The intellectual tradition that traveled with them to the United States took on a different meaning and served very different research agendas. At the University of Chicago, where Leo Strauss and Hans Morgenthau battled for the preservation of the philosophical legacy of the discipline, the Department of Political Science was producing a new generation of influential Behavioralist scholars who would bring prestige to the Chicago School and to the entire discipline—most notoriously, Harold Lasswell , , V.
Key, Jr. Kaplan Behavioralism also benefited from the support of the major American funding agencies. The s proved to be a turning point for Behavioralism in both American political science and American IR. While political theory and its normative, ethical tradition of inquiry had constituted the core of the discipline since its establishment in the United States Gunnell, , Behavioralism succeeded in marginalizing and even stigmatizing philosophically oriented scholars, thereby monopolizing much of the American scholarly production of the field.
It also profoundly reshaped its cognitive tenets, terminology, methodologies, and scholarly ethos, while redefining its relationship to the other social and the non-social sciences. The Terms of the Behavioral Revolution For the Behavioralists, as well as their critics, the debate around Behavioralism was grounded in the opposition and tension between innovation and tradition Eulau, The Behavioral Revolution started as a declared protest Dahl, against traditional political science, which it viewed as being both too descriptive and too speculative, lacking rigor and ambition, and incapable of analytical theorization and therefore of cognitive growth.
David Easton famously diagnosed the discipline as undergoing a deep malaise that made its practitioners incapable of justifying their institutional existence and intellectual relevance to the problems of the age.
Regularities: There are discoverable uniformities in political behavior [that] … can be expressed in generalizations or theories with explanatory and predictive value.
Verification: The validity of such generalizations must be testable, in principle, by reference to relevant behavior. Techniques: Means for acquiring and interpreting data … need to be examined self-consciously, refined, and validated. Quantification: Precision in the recording of data and the statement of findings require measurement and quantification. Values: Ethical evaluation and empirical explanation involve two different kinds of propositions that, for the sake of clarity, should be kept analytically distinct.
Systematization: [T]heory and research are to be seen as closely intertwined parts of a coherent and orderly body of knowledge. Pure science: [T]he understanding and explanation of political behavior logically precede and provide the basis for efforts to utilize political knowledge in the solution of urgent practical problems of society.
Integration: Because the social sciences deal with the whole human situation, political research can ignore the findings of other disciplines only at the peril of weakening the validity and undermining the generality of its own results.
The Science of Political Behavior and Processes The first important tenet of Behavioralism is that the social sciences can be as scientific in their methods, modes of explanation, and conclusions as the pure sciences, the same understanding of science prevailing in both.
The objective, then, was to discover regularities and patterns of behavior similar to the laws observed in nature. Given that social organization and human behavior are governed by dynamic processes rather than static patterns of repetition, the scientific models that were emulated were those of biology, wherein systems are conceptualized on the basis of their functions and interactions with their environment, rather than those of physics, wherein explanation derives from the effect of covering laws of behavior on the properties of individual or aggregate bodies.
This explains why systems theory Easton, , ; Kaplan, and cybernetics Deutsch, , became predominant in Behavioralist literature, as they provided Behavioralists with the conceptual framework for the study of political processes in terms of social adaptation, equilibrium, information processing, and homeostatic regulation.
The realm of political science per se was therefore epistemically conceived in neo positivist terms, insofar as science concerns itself with givens, that is, observable facts or, at most, observable manifestations of non-factual phenomena.
Behavior therefore took ontological precedence over such notions as human nature, freedom, reason, or power. This neo positivist epistemology, however, should be understood as defining the realm of science, not of knowledge in general. Although many Behavioralists adopted neo positivism and even scientism as comprehensive attitudes toward the social world, most of them did acknowledge that Behavioral science cannot encompass the realm of understanding, and that many dimensions of human behavior and politics can only be grasped by relying on historical, philosophical, and even ethical inquiry.
This point was misunderstood by most of their opponents, and by most commentators in both political science and IR, who indiscriminately conflated Behavioralism and neo positivism, thereby including the former in any critique of the latter.
Insofar as social processes can be objectified scientifically, the observer has to operate a separation between what can and cannot be observed and agreed upon through the methods of science. The datum of Behavioral science should therefore be amenable to measurement, quantification, testing, and replication, which explains the introduction of mathematics for the purpose of formulating rigorous relationships among clearly defined variables. To the extent that regularities can be discovered, Behavioralism aspired not only to explain past or present behavior and processes, but also to predict or anticipate future ones, based on a precise assessment of the weight different variables take in different settings.
The development of analytical theories, wherein variables are operationalized and related to one another within specific boundary conditions, should therefore be validated by empirical testing. Those variables that cannot be tested—either directly or indirectly—cannot be retained by Behavioral science. This epistemic attitude was explicitly opposed to two modes of inquiry. The first is the descriptive model of historical investigation, which is conceived as being concerned with singular, rather than recurrent, phenomena.
This is related to the difference between synchronic and diachronic analysis Eulau, , p. Comparison, in turn, requires the methodical construction of constants parameters and variables, so that it becomes possible to measure variations and say something meaningful about what makes different social systems evolve and how change operates. The second mode of inquiry Behavioralism rejected is that which aims for transcendental truths and characterizes philosophical, normative, and ethical discourse.
It is this specific aspect of Behavioralism that most radically alienated traditional scholars such as Leo Strauss, who considered that Behavioralism identified with neo positivism implied a depreciation of prescientific, common sense knowledge. At the core we find the most traditional of approaches…. At the periphery we encounter the agenda of behavioral science which, unlike any other agenda, knows no limits … because the method of science does not know final knowledge. Here inquiry is undertaken as much to reduce ignorance as to discover truth.
What knowledge emerges is assumed to be partial, possibly temporary, contingent on the state of science, and always probabilistic. As science reduces ignorance, it may know what is not the case; it does not arrogate to itself knowledge of the truth. In this sense, behavioral science is without firm boundaries and its agenda is never exhausted. Eulau, , pp. Behavioralist works characteristically start with very detailed definitions of concepts and variables used, and a clear statement of the research questions investigated, with clearly defined hypotheses and protocols for testing them.
As they developed new bridges connecting them to the rest of the social and non-social sciences, the Behavioralists further alienated those scholars who considered that political science was a discipline whose central object of study—power—distinguished it from all other fields of inquiry.
From a Behavioralist perspective, the ontological focus on political behavior, which is merely one type of social behavior, precluded any such intellectual and institutional autonomy. Interdisciplinarity was both an epistemic and an ontological necessity, and many Behavioralists in fact denied political science the status of academic discipline. Methodology was by no means pursued as an end in itself. Although the Behavioralists widely contributed to the introduction of the philosophy of knowledge and science in the disciplinary literature, their aim was to improve the concepts and methods of research for the purpose of empirical and practical relevance.
For their critics, however, the stress on methodology, methods, and the technicalities of science was shifting attention away from the most important and meaningful questions, most of which appealed to the judgment of the scholar rather than to technical standards of inquiry.
This general impression was more specifically related to the central question of the relation of values to knowledge, which was one of the most central points of contention between the Behavioralists and their critics. Here again, criticism was addressed to the neo positivist underpinnings of Behavioralism, that is, to the delineation of the epistemic and ontological realm of inquiry within whose boundaries Behavioralism consciously limited itself.
Their central concern was to extract value judgments from scientific explanation proper and guarantee that, regardless of the context of discovery, the logic of explanation would remain unaffected by personal or collective value preferences Kaplan, The stress on methodology, wherein value-control became an important standard, was meant to separate science from ideology, and to critically raise the awareness of scholars to their own preferences, assumptions, and biases, and of how these polluted the scientific process Greene, Some Behavioralists such as Dahl even adopted the strategy of clearly stating their political and ideological preferences to their readers at the beginning of their analyses.
Much of these positions entailed a validation of the American democratic system. The criteria for making such judgments were, however, rarely articulated Bay, , p. In this respect, then, the scientist must come to terms with his own moral conscience. Much of the debate between the Behavioralists and their opponents revolved around this confusing notion.
With the rise of the culture of neo positivism in American academia, the ethos of social and moral disengagement prevailed Gunnell, , p. These attacks on the Behavioralist ethos were not restricted to the debates among political scientists. Behavioralists from all disciplines were accused of hiding their implicit collusion with power behind the veil of value-freedom.
After having succeeded in significantly altering the epistemic attitude of political scientists by stressing the importance of conceptual and methodological rigor, Behavioralism was now faced with the dilemmas arising from its flirtation with neo positivism.
The historical interest lies in the unique quality of the individual apple, the scientific interest, in the qualities which it has in common with all apples. The disagreement between Behavioralists and some Realists concerned the belief in the unity of science, that is, that the same methodologies and standards applied to both the physical and social sciences.
What is behaviorism in political science?
It assumes that political institutions largely reflect underlying social forces and that the study of politics should begin with society, culture , and public opinion. To this end, behavioralists utilize the methodology of the social sciences—primarily psychology—to establish statistical relationships between independent variables presumed causes and dependent variables presumed effects. For example, a behavioralist might use detailed election data to argue that voters in rural areas tend to vote for candidates who are more conservative , while voters in cities generally favour candidates who are more liberal. The prominence of behavioralists in the post-World War II period helped to lead political science in a much more scientific direction. For many behavioralists, only such quantified studies can be considered political science in the strict sense; they often contrasted their studies with those of the so-called traditionalists, who attempted to explain politics by using unquantified descriptions, anecdotes , historical analogies , ideologies , and philosophy.
Origins[ edit ] From through the s, behaviouralism gained support. It was David Easton who started it in the study of political systems. It was the site of discussion between traditionalist and new emerging approaches to political science. It moved toward research that was supported by verifiable facts.
Behaviouralism in Politics: Definition, Origin and Credo
Though it is not an easy task to define behaviouralism or political behaviour in a very precise way, attempts, during the last several decades, have been made to define it. In this definition there are two things which demand mention. It is a movement, and behaviouralism is based on the observable behaviour of individuals who are regarded as political actors. Behaviouralism starts an in-depth analysis by scrutinising the political behaviour of individuals. There is another definition which is different from the standpoint of language but not conceptually. Behaviouralism is a belief which insists that social theory can be and should be constructed only on the basis of observable behaviours because only such behaviour provides measurable or quantifiable data for research. The exponents of behaviouralism have built up a conviction that neglecting the behaviour of individuals—who are the real actors of social and political events— a plausible political social or political theory cannot be constructed.