Principles of Political Science: A New Introductory Textbook

(This post is co-authored by Patrick Kuhn and Stefanie Walter)

The second edition of our introductory textbook to political science was just published.

In view of the already saturated market for introductory textbooks to political science, several colleagues asked us: “Why another textbook?” and “Why in German?” Here are some answers that also convey the main conceptual and pedagogical ideas underlying our textbook, and that may also be useful for political scientists teaching in other languages.

After consulting and/or using various alternative textbooks in our introductory classes to political science, we ended up being rather unhappy with existing options. First, most textbooks are considerably narrower in scope than their titles suggest. They focus predominantly on one subfield of political science, such as Comparative Politics, International Relations, or the national politics of the country they are mainly marketed in. Second, most of them introduce the main theoretical concepts in an overly abstract fashion, divorced from their use in current research. Finally and most importantly, most textbooks are overly descriptive and do not systematically and extensively connect theory development and empirical analysis, which is in fact the core of modern political science research. Our goal was, therefore, to write a textbook for the German-speaking market that addresses the mentioned shortcomings of existing textbooks, covers the fundamental concepts, approaches, and research areas of political science, and remains accessible to entry-level students.

The book’s coverage is very broad. We deal with all main aspects of: domestic politics in the three German-speaking countries (i.e., Austria, Germany, and Switzerland); Comparative Politics by comparing those three countries with each other and with many other countries as well; International Relations and globalization; and European integration. Since entry-level students are usually most familiar with the political system of their own country, we believe that it makes sense to take newcomers to political science to the right “cruising altitude” by confronting their existing local knowledge with a scientific approach to the analysis of politics. Systematic comparison of the three German-speaking countries helps in introducing and illustrating fundamental concepts in a “hands-on manner”; and doing so in the students’ mother tongue is likely to make their first encounter with political science easier, perhaps even more pleasant – though it is obvious that students will have to read lots of scientific literature in English and perhaps also other languages later on.

To systematically connect theoretical reasoning with empirical research throughout each of the substantive chapters, we have structured the book as follows. The first three chapters familiarize students with the research process. This begins with developing interesting research questions and constructing (causal) theoretical arguments that address research questions, and leads to empirically testable hypotheses and to research designs that enable researchers to assess hypotheses empirically. These chapters provide students with the vocabulary and tools to evaluate and discuss the theoretical arguments and empirical results presented in the subsequent twelve chapters. Each of these chapters focuses on a particular political institution, issue, or research area of political science; that is, political regimes, democratic forms of government, elections, referenda and initiatives (direct democracy), parties and party systems, mass media, interest groups and social movements, legislatures, government and public administration, constitutional courts, international relations, and globalization. After a brief introduction of relevant concepts, each chapter discusses the respective political institution or issue in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and the EU, pointing out similarities and differences. It then focuses on important research questions, theoretical approaches and discusses empirical findings, with an emphasis on how existing research is linking theory and empirics. At the end of each chapter we provide a list of books and articles for further reading. The book is accompanied by a website that offers questions for exams or self-assessment, a glossary, and other materials that may be of interest to students and professors.

In brief, our answer to the questions above is: Because it is important to have a textbook for German-speaking newcomers to political science that: builds on pre-existing local political knowledge and confronts this knowledge with a scientific approach to the analysis of politics; is broad in its coverage; and systematically connects theory with empirical analysis.

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