American political science in Europe today is mostly equated with quantitative social science. See quantification as good or bad, it’s just one side of the coin. American political science has more to offer. Check out, for instance, the marvelous “Conversations with History”. In this collection of unedited audiovisual interviews Berkeley’s Harry Kreisler talks to important academics and activists and makes them reflect on their lives and their work. ‘Political awakenings’ are discussed but the conversations also touch upon current political, economic or cultural questions. You can, for instance, get a firsthand report of Ernst Haas’ youth in Nazi-Germany, hear Barry Eichengreen comment the global economic crisis or learn why Stephen D. Krasner considered his academic background as useful for his former work as director of policy planning at the state department. The basic idea behind the platform is to “capture and preserve through conversations and technology the intellectual ferment of our times.”
I imagine that the establishment of such a platform would be valuable tool for the German speaking political science community. To be clear, the focus of this should be on our discipline, political science. I trust that for current and future generations, it should be illuminating to discover the emergence of various schools of thought and approaches from our contemporaries in the format of a late night show. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to get armchair information on the background of current “big names” of political science, their formative experience and their political science commitments? How do they today see their “awakenings” and curricula? By whom were they influenced or how large a role did chance play? How do they today judge their former theories and early beginnings and how do they evaluate the state of the art of our discipline? And what are the shortcomings and challenges that they see ahead of us? At least for my students who had to watch the contribution by Ernst Haas, neofunctionalist integration theory suddenly became “real” and important.
Technically, we can today make more use of such forms of infotainment. For the sake of capturing the big picture, I would suggest that the three major political science associations of the German speaking world – DVPW, ÖGPW and SVPW, – should consider commonly setting up such an archive of political science oral history (possibly as a starting point for a European project of such a sort). First interviews could cover ‘usual suspects’ such as Klaus von Beyme, Ernst-Otto Czempiel, Helga Haftendorn, Max Kaase, Peter Graf Kielmansegg, Hans-Dieter Klingemann or Hanspeter Kriesi to name but a few who have followed and shaped the courses of (sub)discipline(s). Ultimately, the selection of candidates should be based on a ranking of political scientists. Or whom would you like to invite to a political science ‘Zimmer frei’? Suggestions welcome!