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Political Science on the Cusp: Recovering a Discipline's Past

  • JOHN G. GUNNELL (a1)


As Thomas Kuhn noted, it is almost inevitable that scientific practitioners read the history of their field backward and perceive earlier stages as, at best, prototypical of the present. This is the manner in which political scientists, and even historians, have imaged the relationship between the debates about science and democracy that took place during the 1920s and 1950s. Despite the importance of Charles Merriam's role in the history of American political science, his work was not the discursive axis of the paradigmatic disciplinary shift that took place in the first quarter of the 20th century. It was the arguments of G. E. G. Catlin and W. Y. Elliott that most distinctly represented the transformation in both the theory of democracy and the image of science, and that, for the next two generations, set the terms of the debate about these issues as well as about the relationship between the mainstream discipline and the subfield of political theory. And, despite the theoretical and ideological differences between Catlin and Elliott, their exchange points to the intensely practical concerns that originally informed the controversy about the scientific study of politics.


Corresponding author

John G. Gunnell is Professor, Department of Political Science, State University of New York, Albany, NY 12222 (


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Political Science on the Cusp: Recovering a Discipline's Past

  • JOHN G. GUNNELL (a1)


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