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.

Student cheating 2.0

This has made the round of the blogs (scatterplot, orghteory, Marginal Revolution):

You’ve never heard of me, but there’s a good chance that you’ve read some of my work. I’m a hired gun, a doctor of everything, an academic mercenary. My customers are your students. I promise you that. Somebody in your classroom uses a service that you can’t detect, that you can’t defend against, that you may not even know exists.

I work at an online company that generates tens of thousands of dollars a month by creating original essays based on specific instructions provided by cheating students. I’ve worked there full time since 2004. On any day of the academic year, I am working on upward of 20 assignments.

In the midst of this great recession, business is booming. At busy times, during midterms and finals, my company’s staff of roughly 50 writers is not large enough to satisfy the demands of students who will pay for our work and claim it as their own.

This guy seems to imply that his customers are mostly online education students, and indeed I think that this kind of cheating would be impossible in my classes, in which I meet students several times while they write their papers to discuss their progress based on preliminary drafts. Or am I just being naive?

Bonus excerpt:

I do a lot of work for seminary students. I like seminary students. They seem so blissfully unaware of the inherent contradiction in paying somebody to help them cheat in courses that are largely about walking in the light of God and providing an ethical model for others to follow. I have been commissioned to write many a passionate condemnation of America’s moral decay as exemplified by abortion, gay marriage, or the teaching of evolution. All in all, we may presume that clerical authorities see these as a greater threat than the plagiarism committed by the future frocked.

We matter, but maybe not as much as we think

What difference does the quality of education make for student outcomes? Establishing a causal relationship is difficult especially for PhD students, because it is likely that the best students are drawn to the best departments, so that a positive correlation between departmental strength and students’ success is at least in part due to a selection effect. An article in the latest issue of the Journal of Political Economy uses a smart identification strategy, namely the expulsion of mathematics professors in Nazi Germany as an exogenous shock to faculty quality. The abstract sums up the main results:

I investigate the effect of faculty quality on PhD student outcomes. To address the endogeneity of faculty quality I use exogenous variation provided by the expulsion of mathematics professors in Nazi Germany. Faculty quality is a very important determinant of short- and long-run PhD student outcomes. A one-standard-deviation increase in faculty quality increases the probability of publishing the dissertation in a top journal by 13 percentage points, the probability of becoming a full professor by 10 percentage points, the probability of having positive lifetime citations by 16 percentage points, and the number of lifetime citations by 6.3.

These effects look sizeable but maybe not as large as we, as professors, like to think. Self-selection is probably as strong a determinant of success as departmental quality, possibly even more.

As an aside, this research is a nice illustration of the causal inference trend that is well established in economics and is catching up quickly also in political science. In this regard, see also this previous post.

How much division of labor for Swiss political science?

Over at the University Blog, Ferdinand von Prondzynski, President of Dublin City University between 2000 and 2010, writes:

One crucial issue facing Irish higher education over the next while will be institutional diversity. Broadly the question goes like this: we are a small country, so why do we need seven universities that cover more or less the same territory, and a dozen or so institutes with the same mission, and some other colleges? Why not identify a specialism for each and then ensure they are the best they could be in that area? Or maybe, why not identify one or two all-rounder institutions, with everyone else occupying a niche?

These questions are highly relevant for the Swiss political science landscape.

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