2021 Theme Statement

Promoting Pluralism

Janet Box-Steffensmeier (APSA President) 
Valeria Sinclair-Chapman and Dino P. Christenson (APSA 2021 Co-Chairs)

This call for proposals opens in the midst of political, economic, and social upheaval that portends significant transformations across the globe. The answers to what these global shifts mean for governments, nations, communities and individuals are neither straightforward nor obvious, and the tools necessary to examine them are varied and expansive. More than ever, political science is positioned to address pressing questions of this moment and beyond, provided we embrace and promote the rich intellectual pluralism of our discipline – in methodology, methods, behavior, institutions, and perspective. In addition, we recognize that the diversity of our scholars in terms of racial and ethnic background, nationality, gender, sexuality, and gender expression, institutions and professional career stage contributes to knowledge and ways of understanding the world. Our theme for 2021 is pluralism.

Perhaps the most well-recognized dimension of political science’s pluralism is methodological. Ours is a discipline rich in usage of methodologies and methods from a range of fields. Such is only natural when considering a topic as complex and broad as politics. We have an epistemologically pluralistic profession, which we should encourage, protecting as an asset the strength of our divergent voices. Yet, most if not all of us have our preferred approaches, and, as a result, tacitly downplay others. But, it is this tension that makes political science so fruitful. The mix has translated into a discipline that is not only more open but also more scrupulous. Our discipline’s heterogeneous field of methodologies, methods, and theories is and should be a hallmark of political science and an opportunity to lead other social sciences. This is a crucial time for the discipline in terms of the expansion and acceptance of a range of methodologies and methods.

Our discipline itself is divided into a number of major and minor subfields. From each we have learned independently, but the biggest gains have come from conversations across them. For example, the behavioral revolution in American politics and survey research has spawned an understanding of attitudes and opinions across the globe. In turn, comparative behavioral research has enriched our understanding of the degree of exceptionalism, or lack thereof, in American politics. Historical and comparative studies of authoritarianism and populism are resonating with Americanists today, just as the dialogue between interpretivist and positivist perspectives are illuminating concepts of domination, resistance, and surveillance. In American politics alone, the connection between studies of political behavior and institutions are enriching our understanding of the constraints of political actors, like Supreme Court Justices and the president. Likewise, micro-level public policy studies are increasingly informed by international relations, as the most pressing issues in any locale are global in nature: healthcare and pandemics, like Covid-19, sustainability and climate change, as well as ideological conflict and terrorism. Solving the big problems of the future will require both intra and interdisciplinary bridges. As in the past, our greatest leaps in understanding are not the result of a particular field or approach, but rather the exchange between them. The political science of tomorrow requires that scholars be in conversation, and not only with one another, but also with the broader public.

In an era where artificial intelligence and big data promise new insights, theoretical frameworks from intersectionality to biometrics test our ethical commitments, and scholars come from increasingly diverse demographic, national and even institutional backgrounds, political science must be intentional about creating space for the many facets of its scholarship. For this year’s meeting, we call attention to the multidimensional diversity our discipline has to offer. In the spirit of avoiding “separate tables,” we invite panels and papers that push us away from silos and toward respect, engagement, and celebration of a wide array of scholars, methods, methodologies and approaches.

Political science is answering the call for a world characterized by complex issues that do not respect methodological, disciplinary or geographic boundaries. To continue to do so will require increasing agility and flexibility in methodological training and substantive knowledge spanning subfields and even disciplines. With specialization certain to be equally as important as it is today, problem solving in the future demands diverse teams able to address multipronged challenges. Thus, we invite your attention to pluralism, in all of its many and varied forms. We invite the messy, the inconclusive, and the hard to interpret, right along with the precise, the clear, and the parsimonious—all at the same table. We, as a society, benefit from a discipline that transcends traditional frontiers. We forge the most promising path forward when we recognize our differences as adding value from the perspective of the whole