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The Future of Political Science?
The Korean Journal of International Studies 20-3 (December 2022), 437-444
Published online December 31, 2022
© 2022 The Korean Association of International Studies.

John Ishiyama [Bio-Data]
Received October 6, 2022; Revised October 15, 2022; Accepted November 1, 2022.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
In this essay I outline what I see as the major challenges facing the discipline of political science, current trends in the field, and what might be done to meet these challenges. I conclude with what I believe can be done in this post COVID era to reinvigorate the discipline. In particular, I argue that we need to refocus on teaching now more than ever because there is a great need to re-engage citizens in the democratic process.
Keywords : Post COVID political science, teaching and learning, interdisciplinarity, the relevance of political science

Thank you for inviting me to write this short essay on what I view to be the future or our discipline, political science. However, let me start out with a few small disclaimers before I begin.

First, my comments in this essay in no way reflect the views of the American Political Science Association (APSA), nor the editorial policy of the American Political Science Review nor any other organization for which I have worked. My thoughts are my own. Second, my comments really are limited to my experiences with American political science, and the examples I use are based upon those experiences, although I think these themes resonate beyond the United States. Third I am not sure I can answer the question posed in the title. I really do not have a “crystal ball” nor do I have an ability to point predict the future. Rather this talk will be about general trends and prospects I have seen in the field

Before I begin, I’d like to say a little about myself, in as much as my experiences in the discipline shape how I see things in our field. First, I have had the opportunity to teach at two very different universities. For the first 18 years of my career, I taught at a primarily teaching institution (Truman State University in Missouri) which is classified as a “public liberal arts” university. Class sizes were small (usually under 30 students) and I taught 3 to 4 classes a semester. There was no graduate program in political science. The focus at Truman was largely on teaching, and research and scholarship were considered of secondary importance. Since 2008, I have been employed at the University of North Texas, a large research-intensive university. Thus, I have had considerable experience in my teaching career with very different academic environments.

In addition I was, for nine years, Editor in Chief of the Journal of Political Science Education (Routledge) (2003-2012) and was Editor in Chief of the American Political Science Review from 2012-2016. More recently I have served as APSA President Elect (2020) President (2021-2022) and Immediate Past President (2022 to present). Thus, in many ways I believe that, given these experiences, I am fairly well positioned to provide some insight as to the development of political science as a discipline.

In this essay, would like to address three themes: 1) Challenges currently facing our discipline; 2) trends in the field: 3) and what might be done to meet these challenges.


One of the major challenges we face as a discipline is an existential one. This existential challenge is illustrated by how political science has been treated by the preeminent governmental research funding institution in the United States- The National Science Foundation (NSF). In 2013, an amendment was added to the funding bill for the NSF that was sponsored by a Senator from Oklahoma, Thomas Coburn. The amendment, the so called “Coburn amendment”, passed on a voice vote in the Senate and eliminated funding for political science in NSF “except for research projects that the Director of the National Science Foundation certifies as promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States.” The provision was removed from the 2014 authorization bill, and Political Science funding was restored. However, the anti-political science sentiment remained, particularly among Republicans, who viewed political science as being dominated by left wing intellectuals. When the Republicans controlled both the House and Senate and Presidency after the 2016 election, there was additional pressure to eliminate funding for political science. In part, in order to save funding for the discipline, the Assistant Director Dr. Arthur Lupia (2018-2022), proposed a rebranding of the directorate, eliminating “political science” as one of the directorates, replacing it with a program on national security, and a program on Economic development in 2020. This was generally consistent with the proposal made by the Coburn amendment in 2013. In short, political science as a NSF directorate no longer exists. These developments have brought up some very hard questions

How did this happen? The changes in the NSF are based on a long-term suspicion about our discipline as basically irrelevant -- that commentators at the major news networks like CNN can tell the public more about politics than the any of us can. Although we can assail this claim, there is some merit to this. Indeed at least in the United States, when expert commentary is asked for on some burning political issue, it is more often the case that a journalist will be asked for their insights than a political scientist. Why is that? Frankly because not many people, and some who are quite intelligent, can really figure out what we are saying. This must change, and the profession’s leading journals and publications should lead this change (where the latest work we produce appears).


What are some trends that are now occurring in our discipline. I must emphasize that this I not a collectively exhaustive list.

First, there is a growing internationalization of this discipline, and a growing questioning of the current sub disciplinary divisions. These sub disciplinary boundaries were formed in the earlier part of the of the 20th century and are becoming increasingly irrelevant now. This includes the questioning of American politics as a field of study and calls for its rebirth as part of comparative politics. However, scholars who have called for the abolition of American politics as a subfield do not argue that scholars shouldn't study American politics, but that using the United States as an organizational structure, in isolation from the rest of the world, is produces flawed research. For instance, Mary Hawkesworth (quoted in Jaschik 2008), argued that when the United States is studied in isolation, "certain things get masked." The "notion of American exceptionalism," she contends produces "a social amnesia." For example, she points out that the violence and corruption of the American revolutionaries receives very little attention so that students do not see any connection between the American revolution and other revolutions-- as a result they have little tolerance for those other revolutions. Similarly, she said that slavery is taught only as "an aberration in the United States rather than as part of a racist feudalism" imported from Europe.

In addition, there has been a decline in the study of international conflict and a general move towards understand intra state conflicts and civil wars (notwithstanding the current Ukrainian war, which many forget began as a civil war). Indeed, globally the absolute number of deaths by international wars has been declining since 1946. However, conflict and violence are on the rise, with many conflicts now involving non-state actors such as political militias, criminal, and international terrorist groups. Unresolved ethno-territorial tensions, the breakdown in the rule of law, absent or co-opted state institutions, and the scarcity of resources exacerbated by climate change, are now the primary causes of intrastate conflict. As a result of the decline of the study of international conflict, and the move towards understanding non state conflict and civil wars, there are now greater connections being developed between traditionally International Relations scholars and Comparative Politics Scholars, particularly over issues related to civil wars.

There is also a growing realization that domestic and international politics are inherently connected. International political and economic dynamics affect internal politics, particularly in this era of globalization. Further, as has long been pointed out by comparative foreign policy scholars, domestic politics strongly influences the international political behavior of states. Thus, the barriers between international relations and comparative politics are eroding as well.

Another area which has transcended the traditional sub disciplinary boundaries is immigration. For instance, several scholars note that immigrants carry with them the experiences from their countries of origins, which includes experiences with autocracy or conflict (Wals 2017). This has caused an entirely new literature that has emerged that transcends comparative politics and American Politics.

A second major trend in the discipline has been the move away from the domination of Straussian approaches in the study of political theory, which emphasized the close reading of the ancient Greek philosophers (such as Plato and Aristotle) as the only important contributions to modern theory. Although prevalent at the end of the twentieth century, there has been a move away from this conception of the field towards both contemporary theory and much more nonwestern comparative political theory. For instance, there has been a rebirth in the study of American Political theorists, as well as anti-modernism of thinkers such as Martin Heidegger. There has also emerged a greater emphasis in recent year on applied and critical theoretical approaches.

Third, there has been a growing unity of methodological approaches. The idea that formal, normative, quantitative, and qualitative can be usefully combined. There is definitely a move away from the ‘methods wars” of the 1990s where departments were divided between “quantitative’ and ‘qualitative” approaches. Now there is a greater embrace of “mixed methodology” and combining quantitative and qualitative approaches in new and exciting ways (Gerring 2012). This is exemplified by recent APSA presidential address by Janet Box-Steffensmeier (2022), who noted a greater tolerance for methodological pluralism in our discipline. In my view this is a very positive development, to fully explore all the tools in the research toolbox

There has also been a shift in what we study as political scientists. A very notable development is the growing importance of studying diversity, race, and ethnicity and the impact of an increasingly multicultural West on democracy. This has been particularly true in the United States but also in Europe. There is also growing awareness of the “backlash” effect, marked by the rise of anti-immigrant and racist populist movements. This is likely to expand as a topic of inquiry for political scientists.

A fourth trend in the discipline is the growing importance of the study of teaching and student learning. Where support from political leaders for basic research in political science has waned, the support for improved teaching has increased. In many ways the teaching of political science is more important now than ever before, not least because we teach skills that produce leaders. Our students know (or should know) how to diagnose and analyze a problem; how to come up with plans, based on evidence, to solve problems; how to mobilize support for their initiatives and actions; and how to use ethical insights to guide the use of power to achieve desired ends. These skills are needed now at all levels of society, not just in government, but also in the private sector, the nonprofit sector, and in civil society. Thus, rethinking the teaching of political science at the undergraduate and graduate levels is needed now more than ever—and especially how we structure and organize our educational programs.


As we emerge from the global pandemic, there are several paths forward to address the challenges we face as a discipline. First and foremost, I think there is a great need to return to what I think so many scholars had said before— to become relevant. Unfortunately, our discipline has focused a great deal on methodological trivia and gigantic theoretical questions, that is often of little policy relevance and not easily understandable to intelligent, but not expert, readers. In many ways we have not only lost our natural audiences, but we have lost our way. We have lost our audience and need to get it back.

To be sure, everyone talks of the need for relevance but how do we do that? I am very encouraged by recent trends in our discipline’s leading journals, such as the American Political Science Review, the American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Politics, International Studies Quarterly, and others. Recently there has been an embrace of the need to publish pieces that people will read, beyond political scientists. The editors of our journals are now working with publishers to be more active in engaging the news media and the public at large. Our journals are now providing exposure to pieces that are fundamentally important to foster public, intellectual, debate—this has not always been the case.

Another path towards relevance is that we as a discipline should stop being afraid of politics. In a piece some years ago in Inside Higher Education, a widely read electronic newsletter in the United States, several of those interviewed said we are essentially afraid to engage in politics (Jaschik 2010). There is nothing wrong with political scientists engaging in public debate on topical issues. We have much to say about democracy, for instance, and how to rebuild the foundations of some that have been rather shaky recently. It is time that our voice contributes to that rebuilding.

And perhaps most importantly we as a discipline must focus on issues of teaching and learning again. In many ways we need to move away from the belief that relevance is becoming the “next Henry Kissinger” and aspire to be an advisor in the halls of power. Frankly as scholars, what we do best is acquiring basic knowledge, engaging in basic research, about why political phenomenon occur. What makes us relevant is imparting that knowledge. Our greatest impact we have on a daily basis is via teaching.

We need to refocus on teaching now more than ever because there is a great need to re-engage citizens in the democratic process. Further, there is also an opportunity for the reinvigoration of teaching as a centerpiece of our discipline. Politicians may not like our discipline, but they do realize the lack of civic engagement is a problem of national (if not international) significance. Promoting civic engagement and civic education has widespread global support—but we have not, as a discipline, embraced this as a scholarly activity. But this is changing– a recent book by Matto, et al (2021) on teaching civic engagement globally. So there is hope for us.

So, what does the future look like for political science? In the short run, we will have to prepare for a “post-Covid era”. Virtual components of our conferences will remain, because these digital venues provide access to scholars who cannot afford the travel costs that associated with attendance. Further virtual classrooms are now a permanent part of the pedagogical landscape. The move toward open access publishing, which had been gaining momentum before the pandemic, has been catalyzed in the post COVID era. Further we will need to become much better about connecting our scholarship with practice and teaching. In the longer run, I think the face of the discipline, particularly in the United States will change. More scholarship will be based on international and comparative perspectives (which can be justified in terms of National Security and economic interest) rather than purely American Politics. There will a greater need to connect with a broader audience beyond ourselves, meaning that the discipline must become much better and communicating our findings to “regular” people. We will need to become even more vigilant in justifying our existence and be more active in defending our discipline

Ultimately, however, I don’t know what the exact future will be like for this discipline I love. It will be difficult- a threshold has been crossed and we have to prepare for this uncertain future. In times of political and economic insecurity, greater cultural and ethnic diversity, rising potential for conflict, and less and less knowledge in the political sphere, in my view the world needs what we have to offer

It will be a future, however, that we make--or rather I should say, YOU will make as the next generation of political science scholars.

  1. Box-Steffensmeier, Janet. 2022. “Engaged Pluralism: The Importance of Commitment” Perspectives on Politics. 20(1): 1-21.
  2. Gerring, John. 2012. Social Science Methodology: A Unified Framework . New York: Cambridge University Press.
    Pubmed CrossRef
  3. Jaschik, Scott. 2008. “Should American Politics Be Abolished (as a Field)?” in Inside Higher Education at, accessed 1 October 2022.
  4. Jaschik, Scott. 2010. “Should political science be relevant?” at accessed 3 October 2022.
  5. Matto, Elizabeth C. ,Alison Rios Millett McCartney, Elizabeth A. Bennion, Alasdair Blair, Taiyi Sun, and Dawn Whitehead. 2021. Teaching Civic Engagement Globally. Washington D.C.: American Political Science Association.
  6. Wals, Sergio. 2011. “Does What Happens in Los Mochis Stay in Los Mochis? Explaining Postmigration Political Behavior” Political Research Quarterly 64(3): 600-61.

20-3 (December 2022)