Although it is commonly assumed that the American political system is the epitome of a popular or democratic regime, Americans, from the late eighteenth century to the present, have had difficulty determining exactly what kind of political society they had created and what form of government they possessed -- or by which they were possessed. This situation has inspired many attempts both to give an account of democracy and to judge the extent to which the United States conforms to such an account. From the time of the debates about the ratification of the Constitution to the present, Americans have imagined and imaged the American polity. The discipline of American political science from its conception and inception, has been a central and unique part of this dialogue, and its representations have profoundly influenced the accounts of, and assumptions about, American government and democracy at various levels of education and in the media. This project is devoted to reconstructing certain central dimensions of the evolution of the discourse of democracy in American political science, as well as to contributing, both substantively and methodologically, to the study of the history of political science and the history of the social sciences in general. Most generically construed, this an exercise in the history of social science. Since such research is still a less than clearly defined scholarly genre, and since the relevance of these studies to practices such as political science is still a contentious issue, this project involves extensive reflection on the general character and purpose of disciplinary history as well as on issues peculiar to the study of the history of political science. More specifically, the PI will examine past literature devoted to recounting the history of American political science, and will explore the manner in which this literature raises certain methodological problems pertaining to the study of the history of the social sciences as well as to the practice of intellectual history in general. Against this background, the PI will elaborate a particular approach to disciplinary history and to the study of conceptual change. The substantive core of the project, however, is an examination of the vision of democracy as it has evolved in the literature of American political science from approximately the beginning of the second third of the nineteenth century to end of the second third of the twentieth century. This study of the discourse of democracy in political science is organized around three pivotal concepts: state, pluralism, and liberalism. These concepts represent successive paradigms of democracy, and this project is devoted to reconstructing those paradigms and the processes of conceptual change involved in the transitions between them.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Bruce E. Seely
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Suny at Albany
United States
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