Why Study Politics?

It is no accident that Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, described Politics as the master science. It is preeminent because politics is an inevitable feature of all societies. We cannot do without it. Defined as the process by which groups representing divergent interests and values make collective decisions, politics is inevitable because of three features of the human condition. First, we have to find a way to live together. We cannot exist in isolation from others. Second, all societies of any complexity contain a range of different interests and values.  Therefore, there will always be a need for a mechanism whereby these different interests and values are reconciled.  Third, scarcity is also an inevitable characteristic of all societies.  Since there is not enough of the goods that people want to go around, there needs to be some mechanism whereby these goods can be distributed. Politics is, therefore, well-worth studying and the aim of our textbook is to introduce students to the major themes of the discipline.

The study of politics prior to the nineteenth century was almost exclusively concerned with a study of values.  That is, politics was equated with moral philosophy, with what ought to be and not what is. Political philosophers asked what is the good life? What, in other words, is the best kind of society for us to live in?  Political philosophy is still an important component of the study of politics. It asks normative, or ought-type questions. Nowadays, though, political philosophy is only one branch of the politics curriculum. It is accompanied by empirical political science, on the one hand, and international relations or politics, on the other. The former asks empirical, or is-type questions about political phenomena. These include the study of particular political systems, sometimes individually, and often in a comparative framework. The study of international politics or international relations has become increasingly popular in recent years. The relationship between sovereign states has been an important component of the study of politics for decades. More recently, however, the focus of politics has begun to shift because in a practical sense we are living in a world which is becoming increasingly interdependent, where the forces of so-called globalisation are placing increasing constraints on what individual so-called ‘sovereign’ states can do on their own.

The Introduction to Politics textbook, now in its fourth edition, covers all three elements of the discipline in detail. Indeed, it is the only introductory textbook to bring together theory, comparative politics, and international relations to provide the most comprehensive and global introduction to politics available. New to this edition is a chapter on non-Western approaches to politics which will help students to build a more diverse understanding of political culture, institutions and actors, with a particular focus on China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Iran, Turkey and Russia. Also new is a detailed coverage of the complex and contentious ideology of populism.

So, the obvious answer to the question ‘why study politics’ is that it is intrinsically valuable because of its central place in the affairs of humans. More instrumentally, the skills ordinarily acquired by politics graduates (written and oral communication skills, some basic training in quantitative methods, problem solving, time-management and so on) are valuable for a whole host of careers. Particular suitable for politics graduates are careers in education, local authorities, the civil service and any other public service, although many also work in the private sector. In addition, there has been a more recent emphasis within the UK higher education sector on employability which includes not just a focus on the skills identified above, but also direct engagement with the workplace and specific employers.

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