Political Science: Nature and Scope

Politics (from Greek: Πολιτικάpolitiká, ‘affairs of the cities’) is the set of activities that are associated with making decisions in groups, or other forms of power relations between individuals, such as the distribution of resources or status. The academic study of politics is referred to as political science.

It may be used positively in the context of a “political solution” which is compromising and non-violent,[1] or descriptively as “the art or science of government”, but also often carries a negative connotation.[2] For example, abolitionist Wendell Phillips declared that “we do not play politics; anti-slavery is no half-jest with us.”[3] The concept has been defined in various ways, and different approaches have fundamentally differing views on whether it should be used extensively or limitedly, empirically or normatively, and on whether conflict or co-operation is more essential to it.

A variety of methods are deployed in this field, which include promoting one’s own political views among people, negotiation with other political subjects, making laws, and exercising force, including warfare against adversaries.[4][5][6][7][8] Politics is exercised on a wide range of social levels, from clans and tribes of traditional societies, through modern local governments, companies and institutions up to sovereign states, to the international level. In modern nation states, people often form political parties to represent their ideas. Members of a party often agree to take the same position on many issues and agree to support the same changes to law and the same leaders. An election is usually a competition between different parties.

A political system is a framework which defines acceptable political methods within a society. The history of political thought can be traced back to early antiquity, with seminal works such as Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Politics, Chanakya’s Arthashastra and Chanakya Niti (3rd century BCE), as well as the works of Confucius.[9]


The English politics has its roots in the name of Aristotle’s classic work, Politiká, which introduced the Greek term politiká (Πολιτικά, ‘affairs of the cities’). In the mid-15th century, Aristotle’s composition would be rendered in Early Modern English as Polettiques [sic],[a][10] which would become Politics in Modern English.

The singular politic first attested in English in 1430, coming from Middle French politique—itself taking from politicus,[11] a Latinization of the Greek πολιτικός (politikos) from πολίτης (polites, ‘citizen’) and πόλις (polis, ‘city’).[12]


  • In the view of Harold Lasswell, politics is “who gets what, when, how.”[13]
  • For David Easton, it is about “the authoritative allocation of values for a society.”[14] To Vladimir Lenin, “politics is the most concentrated expression of economics.”[15]
  • Bernard Crick argued that “politics is a distinctive form of rule whereby people act together through institutionalized procedures to resolve differences, to conciliate diverse interests and values and to make public policies in the pursuit of common purposes.”[16]
  • According to Adrian Leftwich:

Politics comprises all the activities of co-operation, negotiation and conflict within and between societies, whereby people go about organizing the use, production or distribution of human, natural and other resources in the course of the production and reproduction of their biological and social life.[17]

Nature of Political Science

The meaning of politics has varied with time and place. While in Greece and India it was associated with ethics, and conceived in theological terms during the medieval ages it was Machiavelli in the west and Kautilya in India who gave realistic orientation to politics. The word „politics‟ is derived from the Greek word „polis‟ which means the state and therefore the term „political‟ refers to anything related with state. Political Science, is therefore, defined as the science of the state encompassing

the government and organisation and theory and practise of the state. This is a traditional view of Political Science supported by thinkers like R G Gettel, J W Garner, Bluntschli, Paul Janet, George Catlin, Hans Eulan and many others. However this is a very narrow definition of Political Science as within the state there are other institutions and organisations like NGO‟s and trade Unions which though informal have bearings on public policies and individual lives. Thus modern political thinkers like Laswell and Robert Dahl have defined politics in terms of power, authority and influence. Laswell and Kaplan have therefore defined Political Science as the “study of shaping and sharing of power”2 which has shifted the focus from the mere study of

structures and institutions to the study of actions and processes. A more recent definition of Political Science by Miller and Peter B Haris has defined it as the study of conflict resolution. According to Haris, “the modern emphasis in the study of politics is laid on disagreements and reconciliation or resolution of these disagreements”3. From the above discussion it could be culled out that the definition of Political Science has changed according to the changed circumstances and the changing perception of the scholars of the discipline. Roughly speaking these

definitions could be grouped into traditional and modern approaches to political science. While traditional approach has defined political science as the study of state, government and formal institutions laying emphasis on the study of formal legal structures and theoretical part, the modern approach has emphasised on the study of what is actually happening in the state; various forces, processes and informal structures operating within the state.

Another debate which has dominated the modern approach to political science has been as to whether political science could be placed under the ambit of pure science? With the rise of Political Science as a distinct discipline, Political Theory was made one of its subfields. Political Science is concerned with describing and explaining the realities of political behaviour, generalisations about men and political institutions on empirical evidence and the role of power in the society. Political theory, on the other hand, is not only concerned with the behavioural study of political phenomena empirically but also prescribes the goals which states, governments, societies, and citizens ought to pursue. Therefore it is being questioned as to whether the discipline of political science could be described as pure science and various explanations have been put both for and against it.

Unlike natural science, political science lacks consensus among scholars regarding its definition, nature and terminology. Also its principles can‟t be allied universally as they lack precision and clarity like the principles of natural science where two plus two is always equal to four. This is because political science deals with human beings whose actions are unpredictable and not liable to laboratory experimentation. Therefore a middle approach in political science emerged in the

form of post-behaviouralism and political science came to be regarded as both science and art. Robert Dahl states, “political science is both science and art. Whenever students of political science test their theories against the data of experience by observation, the political analysis can be regarded as scientific. When this political analysis is applied for the working of political institution it is art”.

Scope of Political Science

The scope of political science refers to its subject matter. There has been tremendous increase in the number of issues which is now being analysed under the realm of Political Science. There are discussions on the theories of state origin, sovereignty, law, liberty, rights, forms and organs of government, representation, state functions, political parties, pressure groups, public opinion, and ideologies such as capitalism, socialism, communism etc., international relations and institutions.

The international Political Science Association meet in Paris in 1948 classified the scope of Political Science into four zones: political theory, political institution, political dynamics and international relations6. Political theory deals with the fundamental concepts of political science like state, government, justice, liberty, equality, law, sovereignty, separation of power, modes of representation, forms of government, grounds of political obligation and various ideologies. Political philosophy takes a theoretical and speculative overview of these fundamental concepts. Political institution is concerned with the study of formal political institutions like the state and the government, the legislature, the executive, the judiciary, the electorate and the administration. Political dynamics refers to the forces and processes which operate within the government and politics such as political parties, pressure groups, interest groups, lobbies, public opinion, propaganda etc.

Apart from these four zones political science also deals with three other areas which are public administration, international relations and international law and relations between the state and the individual. Public administration deals with the organization, control and coordination of administrative machinery, personnel administration, financial administration, public relations, management, administrative law and adjudication etc7. It also covers the study of local self-governing institutions like corporations, municipalities and Panchayati Raj institutions.


There are several ways in which approaching politics has been conceptualized.

Extensive and limited

Adrian Leftwich has differentiated views based on how extensive or limited their perception of what accounts as ‘political’ is.[18] The extensive view sees politics as present across the sphere of human social relations, while the limited view restricts it to certain contexts. For example, in a more restrictive way, politics may be viewed as primarily about governance,[19] while a feminist perspective could argue that sites which have been viewed traditionally as non-political, should indeed be viewed as political as well.[20] This latter position is encapsulated in the slogan the personal is political, which disputes the distinction between private and public issues. Instead, this term may be defined by the use of power, as has been argued by Robert A. Dahl.[21]

Moralism and realism

Some perspectives on politics view it empirically as an exercise of power, while others see it as a social function with a normative basis.[22] This distinction has been called the difference between political moralism and political realism.[23] For moralists, politics is closely linked to ethics, and is at its extreme in utopian thinking.[23] For example, according to Hannah Arendt, the view of Aristotle was that “to be political…meant that everything was decided through words and persuasion and not through violence;”[24] while according to Bernard Crick “[p]olitics is the way in which free societies are governed. Politics is politics and other forms of rule are something else.”[25] In contrast, for realists, represented by those such as Niccolò Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, and Harold Lasswell, politics is based on the use of power, irrespective of the ends being pursued.[26][23]

Conflict and co-operation

Agonism argues that politics essentially comes down to conflict between conflicting interests. Political scientist Elmer Schattschneider argued that “at the root of all politics is the universal language of conflict,”[27] while for Carl Schmitt the essence of politics is the distinction of ‘friend’ from foe’.[28] This is in direct contrast to the more co-operative views of politics by Aristotle and Crick. However, a more mixed view between these extremes is provided by Irish author Michael Laver, who noted that:

Politics is about the characteristic blend of conflict and co-operation that can be found so often in human interactions. Pure conflict is war. Pure co-operation is true love. Politics is a mixture of both.[29]

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0-9 & other



action theory


administrative theory
















backlash theory


balance of power

balance of terror


bargaining theory


Bentham’s theory of utilitarianism

billiard ball model

biological determinism

black box model



budget-maximization theory



capital logic


catastrophe theory



Christian socialism

circulation of elites


civil disobedience

civil society

class dealignment

class struggle

class voting


cock-up theory

collective security




common good


communications theory



complex interdependence

conflict theory

consciousness raising



conservative paradox



constructive apathy

contingency theory

convergence theory


countervailing power

crisis management

crisis of capitalism

crisis theory

critical theory


cyclical theory


decision making theory

decline of the West



democratic centralism

democratic elitism

dependency theory


detonator theory

development theory

dialectical materialism

dictatorship of the proletariat

difference principle

direct action

direct democracy

directed democracy


divine right

dominant ideology

domino theory

doomsday theory

double consciousness

dual state theory


economic determinism


electoral competition



encroaching control

end of ideology

equal freedom


equality of states doctrine

equilibrium theory



essential contestability



exclusion theory

exit, voice, and loyalty




false consciousness




feminist linguistics

feminist methodology



foco theory



game theory

gatekeeping theory


gender theory

general strike

general will


grand theory

great man theory

greatest happiness principle

Grotian theory

grounded theory

group theory

guild socialism


heartland theory

hegemonic stability theory


high politics

historical materialism

human imperfection

human nature





impacted pluralism




industrial democracy

inevitability of gradualness


internal colonialism

international morality

international system


iron law of oligarchy



just war



king’s two bodies


law of the small number

legal positivism


legitimacy crisis


liberal democracy

liberal feminism



logic of collective action



managerial revolution



market socialism


Marxist feminism

mass society

master race

materialist theory of history





mood theory


mutual aid

mutually assured destruction




natural justice

natural law

natural rights






new age

new class

new left

new liberalism

new right


noblesse oblige



open society

organic theory of the state


overload theory



  1. Leftwich, Aian. (2015). What is politics? : the activity and its study. Polity Press. p. 68. ISBN 978-0-7456-9852-6OCLC 911200604.
  2. Hague, Rod; Harrop, Martin (2013). Comparative Government and Politics: An Introduction. Macmillan International Higher Education. p. 1. ISBN 978-1-137-31786-5Archived from the original on 7 July 2019. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  3. Johnston, Alexander; Woodburn, James Albert (1903) [1903]. American Orations: V. The Anti-Slavery Struggle. G. P. Putnam and Sons. p. 233 – via Internet Archive.
  4. Hammarlund, Bo (1985). Politik utan partier: studier i Sveriges politiska liv 1726–1727. Almqvist & Wiksell International. p. 8. ISBN 9789122007807Archived from the original on 3 July 2019. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  5. P. Brady, Linda (2017). The Politics of Negotiation: America’s Dealings with Allies, Adversaries, and FriendsUniversity of North Carolina Press. p. 47. ISBN 978-1-4696-3960-4Archived from the original on 2 July 2019. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  6. Hawkesworth, Mary; Kogan, Maurice (2013). Encyclopedia of Government and Politics: 2-volume Set. London: Routledge. p. 299. ISBN 978-1-136-91332-7Archived from the original on 2 July 2019. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  7. Taylor, Steven L. (2012). 30-Second Politics: The 50 most thought-provoking ideas in politics, each explained in half a minute. Icon Books Limited. p. 130. ISBN 978-1-84831-427-6Archived from the original on 6 July 2019. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  8. L. Blanton, Shannon; Kegley, Charles W. (2016). World Politics: Trend and Transformation, 2016–2017. Cengage Learning. p. 199. ISBN 978-1-305-50487-5Archived from the original on 2 July 2019. Retrieved 26 February 2018.
  9. Political System and Change: A World Politics Reader. Princeton University Press. 1986. JSTOR j.ctt7ztn7s.
  10. Buhler, C. F., ed. 1961 [1941]. The Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers. London: Early English Text SocietyOriginal Series No. 211.
  11. Lewis, Charlton T.; Short, Charles. “A Latin Dictionary”Perseus Digital Library. Tufts University. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 19 February2016.
  12. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert. “A Greek-English Lexicon”Perseus Digital Library. Tufts Library. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  13. Lasswell, Harold D. (Harold Dwight), 1902–1978. (1963) [1958]. Politics: who gets what, when how. : With postscript (1958). World. OCLC 61585455.
  14. Easton, David, 1917– (1981). The political system : an inquiry into the state of political science. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-18017-4OCLC 781301164.
  15. Lenin, V. I. (1965). Collected works. September 1903 – December 1904OCLC 929381958.
  16. Crick, Bernard, 1929–2008. (1972). In defence of politics. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-12064-3OCLC 575753.
  17. Leftwich, Adrian. (2004). What is politics? : the activity and its study. Polity. ISBN 0-7456-3055-3OCLC 1044115261.
  18. What is politics? : the activity and its study. Leftwich, Adrian. Oxford: Polity. 2004. pp. 14–15. ISBN 0-7456-3055-3OCLC 56383081.
  19. What is politics? : the activity and its study. Leftwich, Adrian. Oxford: Polity. 2004. p. 23. ISBN 0-7456-3055-3OCLC 56383081.
  20. What is politics? : the activity and its study. Leftwich, Adrian. Oxford: Polity. 2004. p. 119. ISBN 0-7456-3055-3OCLC 56383081.
  21. Dahl, Robert A., 1915–2014. (2003). Modern political analysis. Prentice Hall. pp. 1–11. ISBN 0-13-049702-9OCLC 49611149.
  22. Morlino, Leonardo. (2017). Political science. Sage Publications Inc. p. 2. ISBN 978-1-4129-6213-1OCLC 951226897.
  23. Atkinson, Sam. (2013). The politics book. DK. pp. 1–5. ISBN 978-1-4093-6445-0OCLC 868135821.
  24. Leftwich, Adrian. (2004). What is politics? : the activity and its study. Polity. p. 73. ISBN 0-7456-3055-3OCLC 1044115261.
  25. Leftwich, Adrian. (2004). What is politics? : the activity and its study. Polity. p. 16. ISBN 0-7456-3055-3OCLC 1044115261.
  26. Morlino, Leonardo. (2017). Political science. Sage Publications Inc. p. 3. ISBN 978-1-4129-6213-1OCLC 951226897.
  27. Schattschneider, Elmer Eric. (1960). The semisovereign people : a realist’s view of democracy in America. Dryden P. p. 2. ISBN 0-03-013366-1OCLC 859587564.
  28. Mouffe, Chantal (1999). The Challenge of Carl Schmitt. Verso. ISBN 978-1-85984-244-7.
  29. van der Eijk, Cees. 2018. “What Is Politics?” Pp. 9–24 in The Essence of Politics. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Pressdoi:10.2307/j.ctvf3w22g.4JSTOR j.ctvf3w22g. pp. 11, 29.

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