The Nature Of Political Science Definition,Theory, And Scope

We all are acquainted with the term ‘Political Science.’ Ever since man started living an organized social life, Politics has come to play a vital role. As we all know, Political Science is concerned with different political activities of human beings contemplation, occasions, activities, and organizations. It incorporates both comprehension and clarifying the universe of governmental issues that surround us. Conversely, at changed stages of history, Political Science has accepted altered meanings, and its scope is always splayed. Though different political thinkers have discussed political Science since ancient times, the history of Political Science as an academic discipline is not very old. In this unit, we shall discuss the meaning of Political Science and politics. At the same time, we shall also discuss the nature of political science definition, theory, and scope.

The Nature Of Political Science Definition, Theory, And Scope


Man is a social animal. He cannot live in isolation because he is not self-sufficient, and the instinct to survive compels him to live a collective life. According to Aristotle, this collective life necessitates a political mechanism of rules, regulations, and leadership. An organized society needs some system to make and enforce rules for orderly behavior in society. This led to the evolution of a political system with elaborate governmental institutions & procedures in each society. Therefore, man is also a political animal. Political science is one of the oldest subjects of study of this political life of man.


Politics is not only a mere institution of governance but also a mechanism for achieving societal goals. Nature of Political Science is a social science concerned with the theory and practice of politics and the description and analysis of political systems and political behavior. It includes matters concerning the allocation and transfer of power in decision-making, the roles, and governance systems, including governments and international organizations, political behavior, and public policies. Thus, political science is a study of the state in the past, present, and future of the political organization, political processes, and political functions of political institutions and political theories.
Political science has several subfields, including political theory, public policy, national politics, international relations, human rights, environmental politics, and comparative politics.


Western politics’ antecedents can trace their roots back to Greek thinkers Socrates, Plato (427–347 BC), and Aristotle (384–322 BC). The studies were philosophy-oriented. Plato wrote The Republic and Aristotle wrote The Politics. Aristotle is known as the Father of Political Science. He is famous for his statement, “Man is a political animal.” The word ‘ politics ‘ is derived from the Greek word ‘polis,’ which means a city-state.

Nature Of Political Science During the height of the Roman Empire, famous historians, documented the rise of the Roman Republic, and the organization and histories of other nations, while statesmen like Julius Caesar, Cicero, and others provided us with examples of the politics of the republic and Rome’s empire and wars. During this age, the study of politics was oriented toward understanding history, understanding methods of governing, and describing the operation of governments. During the Middle Ages, the study of politics was widespread in the churches and courts. Saint Thomas Aquinas was an important political thinker of this period.

During the Italian Renaissance, Niccolo Machiavelli established modern political science on direct empirical observation of political institutions and actors. His famous book, “The Prince” is a guide to modern realist politics. Other famous men of this period were Thomas Hobbes, John Locke & Rousseau (Social contract theory). Important figures in American politics of this period were Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson.

In ancient India, the antecedents of politics can be traced back to the Rig Veda, Samhitas, Brahmanas, the Mahabharata, and the Buddhist Pali Canon. Chanakya (c.350-275 BC) was a political thinker in Takshashila. He wrote the Arthashastra, a treatise on political thought, economics, and social order, which can be considered a precursor to Machiavelli’s The Prince. It discusses monetary and fiscal policies, welfare, international relations, and war strategies in detail, among other topics. Manusmriti, dated to about two centuries after Chanakya’s time, is another important political treatise of ancient India.

Stages of Evolution

  1. Philosophical: concerned with ends and purposes.
  2. Institutional: concerned with a political organization.
  3. Behavioral: concerned with motivations and mechanisms of human behavior.
  4. Pluralistic: concerned with the interaction among groups and organizations.
  5. Structural: concerned with the connection between the individual and the community.
  6. Developmental: concerned with the process of growth, industrialization change, and the impact on government forms and policies.

Importance of the study of political science (Scope)

The study of politics is both humanistic and scientific and is centuries old. Aristotle called it the “queen of the sciences.” Today’s political research involves highly scientific and rigorous attempts to understand human behavior and world events. Political scientists provide the frameworks from which journalists, special interest groups, politicians, and the electorate analyze issues.

Political science, as a discipline, deals with various aspects like:

a. Study of the state and the government deals with the nature and formation of the State and tries to understand the government’s various forms and functions.
b. Study of associations and institutions in an organized way the fundamental problems of political science include, first, an investigation of the origin and the nature of the state, an inquiry into the nature, history, and forms of political institutions and third, deduction, therefore, so far as possible of laws of political growth and development.
c. Study of national and international problems modern demands of defense of territory, representative government, and national unity have made political science the science of political independence and state sovereignty.
d. Study of the political behavior of man it may be said that its basic supposition regarding man determines the character of political science in all its parts.
e. Study of the past, present, and future of development political science attempts to explain the meaning and the essential nature of the state and deals with the laws of its progress and development within itself and about international organizations and other states.
f. Study of the concepts of power, authority & influence with the behavioral revolution. The central topic for the study has become the study of power. Consequently, the scope has widened to include new aspects like political socialization, political culture, political development, and informal structures like interest and pressure groups.


1. From the traditional point of view, we may define political science as

“the study of the state and government in all their manifestations, aspects and relationships”.

In this sense, politics can be domestic, national, federal, municipal, or international.

These early definitions of political science generally dealt with state and government.

a. J.W. Garner: “Political Science begins and ends with the state,” “Politics is the study of State & Government.”
b. R.G. Gettel: “Political Science is the historical investigation of what the state has been, an analytical study of what the state is and a political, ethical discussion of what the state ought to be.”
c. Leacock: “Political science deals with the government only.”
d. Paul Janet: “Political science is that part of the social science that treats the foundations of the state and governance principles.”

2. At the beginning of the 20th century, there developed a new way of looking at political science. This new approach is known as a behavioral approach. The main thrust of the new view is the treatment of politics as an activity and a process. In this context, new definitions emerged.
e. Harold Laswell: “Politics is the study of influence and the influential” or “the study of the shaping and sharing of power.”
f. David Easton: “Politics is the authoritative allocation of values.”
g. Catlin: “Political Science is the study of the act of human and social control.”
h. Andrew Heywood: “Politics can be defined as an activity through which people make, preserve and amend the general rules under which they live.”

Modern political scientists consider politics as a process centering around power and influence. They are concerned with the state and the government and the study and evaluation of political activities, political power, processes, and non-governmental institutions.

Perspectives on politics

Politics as a human (social) activity Simple things like our opinions, perceptions of rights & wrongs, competing needs, and conflicting interests ultimately lead to a system of rules for conflict resolution and cooperation. The inescapable presence of diversity and scarcity ensures that politics is an inevitable feature of the human condition. Adrian Leftwich (What is Politics?) finds politics is the heart of all collective social activity, formal and informal, public and private, in all human groups, institutions, and societies.

Andrew Heywood (Politics 2007) sees Politics as follows:

(1) Politics as the art of government: Here, politics is the classic activity of making and enforcing collective decisions. The state, as the central concept of politics, has a long history. The state has several specialized structures, institutions, offices, and roles. It has a monopoly on coercive power. In these circumstances, it was natural to understand politics as the study of the state. Until the Second World War, the state served as the chief organizing idea of politics.

(2) Politics as public affairs: The meaning of politics can be stretched beyond the narrow realm of government to a broader conception of public life or public affairs because of its ‘public’ character. Aristotle said that man is a political animal. Rousseau and JS Mill supported this outlook.

(3) Politics as compromise & consensus (the study of interaction among interest groups): According to this, politics has a wider scope. Politics is seen as an act of conflict and cooperation among individuals and various groups to secure values like liberty, equality, justice, welfare, etc., and to organize and use public power for this purpose (Bernard Crick). Thus, politics is an interaction between man & society, resolving conflicts through conciliation and negotiation instead of violence. Both the liberal and Marxist views of politics study it as a part of this social process. As a result of this, non-formal institutions like pressure groups, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, etc., became political subjects.

Thus, within its fold, there are discussions on theories of state origin, functions, sovereignty, liberty, rights forms and organs of government, representation, political parties, pressure groups, public opinion, ideologies, and international relations and institutions.

(4) Politics as the study of power: After rejecting politics as the study of the state as insufficient, modern thinkers tried to find the axis of politics, and they found it in the concept of power. The new understanding of politics was that it is a struggle to share or influence power distribution, whether between states or among the groups within the state. There are two advantages to studying politics from the point of view of power. Firstly, it focuses attention on the process rather than on the legal abstractions of the state. Secondly, this approach pays greater attention to man as the basic unit of analysis. Politics became directly concerned with the needs, interests, and goals of men that give rise to power relationships and ultimately lead to public policy.

In short, there are three forms of power: political, economic, and ideological. Political power is concerned with the maintenance of law and order and dispensing justice through reward and punishment.

Politics as the study of power (in detail)

Though identifiable with terms like influence, coercion, force, domination, authority, control, and the like, the term power has its meaning. Power is a relation. While power is coercive, influence is persuasive, authority is the legitimate aspect of power, and force is manifested power.

Power is “the ability to determine the behavior of others in accord with one’s wishes.” The power theory of politics is as old as the Greeks, though it has assumed much importance. Power consists fundamentally of relationships, subordination, dominance, and submission, the governors and the governed, and the study of politics involves studying these relationships.

In other words, the study of politics is concerned with the description and analysis of how power is obtained, exercised, and controlled, the purpose for which it is used, how decisions are made, the factors that influence the making of these decisions, and the context in which these decisions are made.

Power can be exhibited in three dimensions: political, economic, and ideological.

Political power: it belongs to the state and is manifested through the government’s organs like the legislature, executive, military, judiciary, police, bureaucracy, etc. Power is shared by political parties, pressure groups, elites, factions, leaders, etc. Power exists in all political processes, however democratic they may be.

Liberals say that power is dispersed in society and that it changes hands often. Marxists hold a different viewpoint. According to the power is concentrated in a class, only revolution can change hands.

Economic power: finds its place in the form of ownership and control of national wealth and means of production and distribution. Economic power and political power are mutually complementary.

Liberals say that it is diffused and hard work determines the degree of economic power one can gain. Marxists again believe that economic power is also concentrated in the hands of a few, and they manipulate it to gain political power.

Ideological power: resides in the prevailing ideas acceptable to the people. Ideology means a set of ideas in which people have unquestionable faith, and they also strive to put them into action. The dominant class will also try to propagate and implement congenial ideas to their interests, whether economic or political. They may use all available media, elites, intellectuals, religious institutions, educational systems, associations, and institutions to achieve this while oppressing counter-ideologies.

Authority: Power with legitimacy. Max Weber classifies it into three: traditional, charismatic & legal-rational, or bureaucratic.

Major Approaches To The Study Of Political Science:

In simple terms, an approach may be defined as looking at and then explaining particular phenomena. Approaches and methods to study politics are many, and most of them seem to overlap each other in varying measures. From Plato and Aristotle in the remote past to Laski and Laswell in the present, we have many great thinkers, theorists, and analysts who have attempted to understand and explain political reality in their ways and approaches.

I. The Traditional Approach

The total approaches and methods employed in political inquiry by thinkers from Plato to the 20th century constitute the traditional approach. It consists of a collection of approaches used in the classical and institutional periods. These approaches include the idealistic, philosophical, ethical, normative, historical legal, institutional, comparative, and analytical approaches.

During the classical period, the political community’s ethical basis and moral purpose were described, discussed, and emphasized in logical, consistent, and convincing ways. The problems of ends and means, the ideal and desirable loomed largely. Historical, analytical, and comparative accounts of the various constitutional and governmental systems were made during the institutional period.

a. emphasis on the study of formal institutions to the neglect of political processes.
b. focused on the Western European political system.
c. adopts a country-by-country approach with little attempt to identify similarities between countries.
d. little attention is given to the analysis and development of systematic generalizations about the political phenomena.
e. lack of concern for the development of theories through the collection and analysis of data.
f. neglect of the findings of other social sciences and nonpolitical determinants of political behavior.
g. holds value judgments on what ought to be the nature of political structures and institutions.

Philosophical approach: The oldest approach to the study of politics. Here the study of the state, government, power, and man as a political animal is linked with the pursuit of certain goals, morals, and truths (standards of rights & wrongs). Hence the thinkers of this age moved closer to ethics and tried to advise the rulers. Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, and others belong to this reference speculative frame & not objective.

Historical approach: The feature of this approach is to throw focus on the past or on a selected period of time and on a sequence of events to explain the origin and growth of any political institution. If the political theory has a universal and respectable character, its reason should be traced in the affirmation that it is rooted in historical traditions.

Legal approach: Here, the study of politics is linked with the study of legal or juridical processes (constitutions) and institutions created by the state for maintaining political organization. In this connection, we may refer to Bodin, Grotius, Hobbes, and Dicey’s works. They imply that the state as an organism of growth and development cannot be understood without considering those forces and factors that constitute the domain of law and justice.

Institutional approach: Here, the study lays stress on the formal structures of a political organization like the legislature, executive, and judiciary (impartial account of political reality). Since the emphasis is on the superstructure and the political system’s infrastructure, this approach is also known as a structural approach. This approach neglects individual behavior, the role of power, violence, political movements, wars & revolutions in politics. Ignores the role of informal groups & processes in shaping politics.

a. The historical approach ignores the study of contemporary society.
b. The philosophical approach is speculative and abstract and ignores the actual political phenomena.
c. The institutional approach ignores the political behavior of the individuals and the sociological environment.
d. Ignores international problems.
e. Legal approach covers only one aspect of people’s life.

II. The Behavioral Approach

It is a post-second world war development evolved by the American Scholars (American Political Science Association & Chicago School). By the close of the 19th century, political thinkers understood that they had neglected and paid little attention to understanding and analyzing governments and political institutions’ actual working.
Factors that contributed to the development of behaviorism:
a. They felt dissatisfied with the achievements of conventional political science.
b. The discipline’s failure to predict both the World Wars and the associated socio-political changes, including revolutions in Russia and China and the independence movements in many colonies.
c. To contain the spread of communism.
d. Financial assistance from organizations like Ford Foundation.
e. Growth of new social science research methods.

The scope of political science is now widened to include the organizational structure, the process, decision-making and action, the politics of control, the policies and actions, the electoral process, patterns of political interaction, etc. Graham Wallas tried to interpret political phenomena in terms of psychological forces rather than form and structure. Catlin emphasized an interdisciplinary approach. Charles Merriam, who initiated the Chicago School of the Behavioral Revolution, can be truly regarded as the intellectual godfather of this approach.

Emphasized on:
a. Individual behavior instead of the political institution as the basic unit of analysis.
b. Scientific outlook and objectivity (observation, classification, and measurement of data).
c. Methodological revolution: use of scientific methods (survey, case study, interviews, socio-psychoanalysis, etc.).
d. Interdisciplinary approach.
e. Its commitment to the formulation of empirical theory.

The sociological approach approach emphasizes that social context is necessary for understanding and explaining the political behavior of the community members. Terms like political socialization, political culture, and political sociology are the contributions of this approach. Harold Lasswell, AF Bently.

Psychological approach: a study of politics is made by writers like Graham Wallas, Charles Merriam, Robert Dahl, etc., to deal with the role of emotions, habits, sentiments, instincts, go, etc., that constitute essential elements of human personality. Psycho-analysis of political leaders reveals significant knowledge about politics.

Economic approach: matters relating to the production and distribution of goods have an economic character. But as the state makes its regulations, they are very much involved in the process of politics. The prominent schools of liberalism, socialism, and communism emerged because of the divergent interpretations of the state’s role in regulating economic matters.

David Easton’s Assumptions and Objectives of Behaviorism
(Right Fold Path) (Intellectual Foundation Stones):
1. Regularities, there is a certain uniformity in political behavior that can be generalized in theories explaining and predicting political phenomena.
2. Verification knowledge, to be valid, should include only those things which have been empirically tested.
3. Technique researcher should be conscious of his methodology.
4. Quantification imprecise qualitative judgments have no place in political science.
5. Values value and facts are two separate categories and should be kept analytically distinct. The scientific studies should be value-neutral.
6. Systematization theory and research should be closely interrelated.
7. Pure Science, the theoretical understanding of the political phenomena may lead to applying this knowledge to political activity and thus will become a pure science.
8. Integration interdisciplinary approach.


a.Structural, functional analysis,
b.Input-output analysis,
c. Decision-making approach,
d. Communication framework model.

Criticism: As a result of the utilization of the behavioral approach, the scope of political science has widened, and the nature of the discipline improved in understanding and explaining the political reality. In limited and specialized fields, the behavioral movement achieved significant results. However, with its overemphasis on the quantification of data, the movement suffered from sterility and irrelevance. It evaded problems of large-scale change.

III. Post Behavioral Approach:

Towards the end of the 1960s, a powerful attack was made on the behaviorist position by David Easton out of deep dissatisfaction with its findings. Behaviorism was eager to develop new research methods and techniques about political phenomena. In political science, theories may be developed like natural sciences, but in the effort, they divorced political science from philosophy, history, law, etc. In a world of crisis, doubts were raised about the adequacy or relevance of political science’s modern research methodology, especially when the political scientist was unable to cope with contemporary social and political problems. Behaviorism failed to solve any world problem, such as the threat of nuclear war, hunger, poverty, disease, cold war, arms race, etc.

Post-behaviorism is both a movement and an intellectual tendency. Post-behaviorism is future-oriented. This new development is then a genuine revolution, not a reaction, not preservation, a reform, not a counter-revolution. It is just a continuation of the former, i.e., behaviorism taking it to a higher stage.

Post-behaviorism should not be taken as traditionalism. Both are highly critical of behaviorism. The difference between the approaches lies in the fact that traditionalism discounted the behavioral approach’s validity and sought to revive the classical tradition of political science. In contrast, the post-behaviorists accepted the achievements of the behavioral era, but at the same time, sought to propel political science toward new areas. An important feature of the post-behavioral trend should be traced to taking political science toward policy science.

Post-behaviorists argued that political scientists should be more concerned with values, with issues of justice, freedom, equality, and political activity. It is not appropriate to take a value-free, academic detachment from public policy and political reform.

The two main demands of post-behaviorism are relevance and action. At one stage, David Easton enumerated eight main characteristics of behaviorism and now came out with seven major traits of post-behaviorism as the credo of relevance. They can be summarized as the following:

a. Substance must have precedence over technique. It may be good to have sophisticated tools for the investigation, but the most important point was the purpose to which these tools were applied. Unless scientific research was relevant and meaningful for contemporary urgent social problems, it was not worth being undertaken.
b. Emphasis should be on social change and not social preservation; the behaviorists had confined themselves exclusively to the description and analysis of facts, without taking sufficient care to understand these facts in their broad social context.
c. Political science should not lose touch with the brute realities of politics. The behaviorists concentrated their efforts on abstraction and analysis. Then the vital question arose if political scientists did not find the solution to society’s ills and humanity’s needs, then what was the use of the research?
d. Political science should not be value-free. There is no denying that values played a significant role in political research, and the values were the propelling force behind knowledge. The post-behaviorists firmly believe that if knowledge was to be used for the right goals, value also had to be restored to its proper place.
e. Political scientists must protect the humane values of civilization
f. Post behaviorism emphasizes action in place of contemplative science; according to David Easton, “to know is to bear the responsibility for acting, and to act is to engage in reshaping society.”
g. Urgent need to politicize the profession once it is admitted that political scientists and intellectuals have a positive role to play in society, then n order to achieve that goal it becomes inevitable that all the professional associations, as well as the universities, must be politicized.
h. Mad craze for scientists should be discarded.
i. The study should not only be related to the past and present; it should also be future-oriented.

Traditional Behavioral post-behavioral
Inter-relates facts and values Separate facts and values Facts and values tied to action and relevance
Prescriptive and normative Non-prescriptive, objective and empirical Humanistically problem-oriented
Qualitative Quantitative Quantitative and qualitative
Concerned with irregularities and regularities Concerned with uniformity and regularities Concerned with regularities and irregularities
Focus on European countries Focus on Anglo-American countries Focus on third-world countries

IV. Marxist Approach

The Marxist approach to political analysis is primarily associated with the contributions of Karl Marx. The Marxist approach’s significance is due to its emphasis on the production and distribution of goods in assessing social changes and political revolutions. This is quite different from traditionalism and behaviorism. Marx said, “The mode of production of the material means of existence condition the whole process of social, political and intellectual life.”

The three primary aspects of Marxism are:
a. Dialectical and materialistic concept of history.
b. Critique of capitalism (base & superstructure, surplus value &class struggle).
c. Advocacy of the proletarian revolution.

Using these three concepts, Marxism treats the State as an instrument of exploitation and oppression by one class over the other. Also, the struggle for power constituting the base of politics should be studied in the context of the conflict between two opposing classes.

While Karl Marx and Frederich Engels opened up a new approach to studying the State, Marxist thought was developed into a major concern by later Marxist scholars in Europe and the USA. The Marxian approach gained prominence after the Second World War when it took up the study of the politics of underdeveloped and developing areas in the context of imperialistic exploitation. Noe Marxism led by the Frankfurt School and Western thinkers like Georg Lukacs (History & Class Consciousness), Antonio Gramsci (Prison Diary), Louis Althusser (Reading Capital), etc., have greatly contributed to the development of this Marxist social theory.

The significance of the Marxist approach is that it calls for deeper scrutiny of the meaning and nature of politics. It emphasizes the relevance of class contradictions in the functioning of the State and provides Socialism and Communism as the solution to the problems. Therefore, this approach not only lays out the problems but also delivers the solution. This deterministic character is unique to the Marxist approach. Today the Marxist approach has established a parallel stream of theories and definitions to all basic political concepts like the origin of the State, rights, development, feminism, identity politics, concepts of liberty, equality & property, etc.