Autore: Alessandro Frandi – 14/12/2020
The epistemological status and the dimension of the scientificity of politics has been the subject of a recurrent debate since the origins of the discipline. The very nature of experimentation is confronted with methodological specificity, a complex excursus. It is difficult to transform personal interests into coherent and definable objectives, as the Sommo Poeta already lamented.
What does political science deal with? The question does not have a simple answer. “The dimension of the scientificity of politics has been a recurrent problem since the origins of this discipline. Max Weber claimed the sphere of autonomy of politics with respect to other areas of social science,” says Maria Cristina Antonucci, researcher at the Institute for Population and Social Policy Research of the National Research Council (CNR-Irpps). “The progressive detachment from the analysis of power and the centrality of the state, together with the emergence of behaviourism, have earned, in the U.S. context of the fifties, the claim of a new autonomy of political science with respect to historical disciplines, the search for a methodological and epistemological status separate and original, the basis for the refoundation of this discipline on the basis of an anti-ideological character, marked by a research aimed at the observation of political phenomena.“
Canto VI of Purgatory opens with a frame of blood: Dante exposes the political and social collapse of Italy. Tuscany is accused of being a place of violence, in whose courts nest seeds of hatred and envy. The Sommo Poeta, turning to his native city Florence, reveals the evils that grieve it, such as the lack of social justice. Subsequently, he compares Italy to a slave in the famous verses 76-78: “Ahi serva Italia, di dolore ostello, nave senza nocchiere in gran tempesta, non donna di provincie, ma bordello…“. A series of pungent criticisms, first against the Italian population, pushed to make war and therefore the cause of the lack of stability within the peninsula, secondly towards the Church, focused on obtaining temporal power without having the means to exercise it. Finally, the criticism addressed to Albert I of Hapsburg, guilty of having left Italy without a “charioteer”, an emperor to direct the nation.
Politics is action. The problem of concrete political activity and political action lies in the eternal pursuit of the satisfaction of personal interests by human beings. Not everyone possesses the habit of scientifically defining the instruments necessary to achieve definable goals in a coherent way. Antonucci confirms: “The scientific analysis of political phenomena, based on the collection of empirical data, in particular related to electoral behaviour, or on the production of models, as in the analysis of public policies, in particular in the impact analysis and ex-post evaluation of policy measures, implemented and evaluated on the basis of the ability to remedy specific phenomena of a political nature; in fact, the epistemological status of the discipline is based, starting from the years 1950-60 on the following basic assumptions: 1) the definition of its own object of analysis, the political nature of the relations put in place within a system, which goes beyond political history, 2) the construction of useful knowledge, able to produce impact on the public decision-making system“.
On which assumptions does the discipline of Political Science rest? How has its “epistemological status” evolved? “The introduction of a scientific methodology based on empiricism, for which every analysis must be supported by data, indicators, tools and methods that are adequate, coherent, shared by the scientific community and replicable for the analysis of phenomena specific to the discipline, has been fundamental“, Antonucci replies: “The quality of research on an observational basis of political science appears to be accompanied, since the 2000s, by a dimension based on experimental research“.
Obviously, the nature of experimentation in political science is confronted with its methodological specificity: “It is really difficult to carry out unbiased (unconditioned, impartial) experiments on a reference universe in which the very act of observation of the researcher produces consequences and on which multiple variables deriving from the system of institutions and politics can intervene on the experimentation without the control of those who carry out the research“, concludes the researcher.
The above article has been previously published in Almanacco della Scienza – Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche