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Friday, 15 July 2011

Behaviouralism

Behaviouralism in political science emerged in the 1940s, was dominant in the United States until the 1970s and is still influential. Behaviouralism, as Robert Dahl writes, is a movement in political science which insists on analysing (only) the observable behaviours of political actors. It concentrates on the behaviour of individuals and/or relatively small groups as the basic unit of analysis rather than, like the traditionalists, events, structures or institutions. or ideologies. It aims at improving our understanding of politics by seeking to explain the empirical aspect of political life by means of methods. theories and criteria of proof that are acceptable according to the canons, conventions and assumptions of modern empirical science. David Easton hailed the new approach as the "behavioural revolution" as, under its impact, most American political scientists turned away from the study of constitutions and from saying how states ought to be ruled to the study of the behaviour of political actors and to statements about how states were actually ruled. Following Robert Dahl and David Easton, David Truman, Heinz Eulau, E. M. Kirkpatrick the principal tenets of the bahavioural approach in political science may be summarised as follows:

Regularities: It calls upon the political scientists to discover the regularities of political behaviour which are discernible and express them in generalisations which will enable them to explain political phenomena and even predict. Political science can thus ultimately become a science capable of explanations and prediction. The political scientist should, therefore, the behaviouralists argue, give up purely descriptive studies in favour of rigorous analytical treatment essential to the development of political knowledge.

Verification: The behaviouralists insist that knowledge, in order to be valid, should consist of propositions (or generalisations) that have been verified or are verifiable. Political science should therefore concern itself primarily, if not exclusively, with phenomena which can actually be observed, i.e. with what is done or said. That is to say, all phenomena of government should be stated in terms of observed and observable behaviour of individuals and/ or political aggregates. The behaviouralists decry the "institutional" approach because it is impossible properly to study institutional behaviour other than as manifest in the actions and words of those who carry out institutional functions. This call for empiricism which postulates that the most valid information about phenomena is that gathered through actual experience or observation. That is to say, all phenomena of government should be stated in terms of observed and observable behaviour of men.

Techniques and quantification: The behaviouralists advocate the utilisation and development of more precise techniques for acquiring, interpreting and measuring data. They urge the use of statistical or quantitative formulation wherever possible. Data should be quantified and "findings" based upon quantifiable data. The behaviouralists argue that only quantification can make possible the discovery and precise statement of relationships and regularities. They also attempt to state these relationships as mathematical propositions and to explore their implications by conventional mathematical manipulation. Unless data for research in political science be quantified and all "findings" be based upon quantifiable data, it would be impossible to obtain precise and accurate knowledge about the complexities of political life.

Systematization: The behaviouralists demand that 'research in political science must be systematic, by which they mean that theory and research are mutually interdependent, and that "research, untutored by theory, may prove trivial, and theory unsupported by data futile". Theoretical questions must be put in operational terms for purposes of empirical research. At the same time, empirical findings should have a bearing on the development of political theory. The ultimate objective of behavioural science is the creation of a systematic theory, to be more precise, a causal theory which seeks to show the relations among political facts.

Values: Since political science is a scientific study of politics in the functional aspect, carried through empirical methods, values and preferences and beliefs must be excluded from the analytical process. Truth or falsity of values (democracy, equality, freedom, etc.) cannot be established scientifically.

Integration: The behavioural approach emphasizes the inter-disciplinary nature of political science and urges that political science should be more interdisciplinary. Political behaviour is only one form of social behaviour and political scientists would profit tremendously by drawing on the skills, techniques and concepts of its sister social sciences.

Objective: The goal of political science, as defined by the behaviouralists, is the construction of systematic, empirical theory which seeks to show the relation among political facts.

Briefly stated, the behavioural political analysis insists on the application of "scientific" methods, on making precise statements about political phenomena, on cumulative research, and on broad generalisations which might lend to the cumulative research, and on broad generalisation which might lend to the construction of a causal, empirical theory.

The approach is a useful one, as it indicates that speculation unsupported by empirical data tends to result in metaphysics. Its plea that political scientists should make empirical generalizations which have been or capable of being tested and proved, has deepened our understanding of political process. It has a great impact on political science, the American political science in particular. It has increased the attention of political scientists to research techniques and to analytical theory. Behaviouralism has also left its mark on almost every specialization within the discipline-particularly in community politics, electoral behaviour, political socialization and public opinion. The amount of specialization that constitutes one of the principal features of political science is accentuated by the behavioural approach.

While acknowledging the important contributions of behaviouralism, critics point out to its serious shortcomings.

They say, in the first place, that political science is not, and can never be, a science in the proper sense of the term. The phenomena with which political scientists are concerned do not lend themselves to rigorous study. Human behaviour is not amenable to experimental enquiry. Variables cannot be controlled sufficiently to claim scientific precision for the results. Hence generalizations in political science can never attain the degree of accuracy of mathematical equations.

Secondly, the focus of the behavioural approach on the individual is not sufficient. It is vital to understand and explain how individual decisions are aggregated because individual preferences cannot by themselves explain collective decisions. The individual should be studied in the social setting in which he moves and functions.

Thirdly, in their zeal to build a science of politics the behaviouralists study questions of fact as distinguished from questions of value. They exclude the normative realm altogether from the scope of their scientific enquiry. But it is impossible and undesirable to ignore values in studying individual and social behaviour because values and preferences are deemed vital dimensions of human activity.

Fourthly, the focus of the behavioural approach on individual behaviour is not sufficient because overt political behaviour tells only a part of the story. Different individuals may perform the same act for quite different reasons. To understand what they do, one must go beyond, or behind, observed behaviour. Moreover, individuals and groups act within an institutional or a social setting, and knowledge of that setting is essential to explain their behaviour in a meaningful way. The individuals and groups should be studied in the social setting in which they move and function.
Fifthly, critics do not deny the theoretical merits of quantification but point out that for most practical purposes it is now and will continue to be an unattainable goal. Quantification requires precise concepts and reliable metrics but political science possesses neither. Significant questions normally cannot be quantified; only trivial questions can be quantified. No one can mathematicise that which is not precise and measurable.

Sixthly, there are many areas where an interdisciplinary approach may be useful but care must be taken to preserve the identity and integrity of political science. There are concepts and techniques which are simply inappropriate for political inquiry.

Seventhly, since the behaviouralists have concerned themselves exclusively with "what is" they identified themselves with the status quo. They have failed to see politics "as, politically at least, an instrument of reason, legitimately dedicated to the improvement of social conditions". The behavioural approach tends to make politics a mere decision-making process. The task of the political scientist, according to the behaviouralists, is to examine the persons who make the decisions, how they make them and why. But he should pass no ethical judgment on the decision.

As a result, says Lipson, the behaviouralists by subordinating the substance of politics to a methodological purism "become the prisoners of their own methodology." No one disputes that decisions are taken in politics but we cannot, he argues, evade the question of the content of the decisions and arguing their merits. Is the decision right? What decision ought to be taken? These questions are to be answered. One may indulge in intellectual exercises by recording details as to how men behave but one's labour is lost unless one can suggest how men ought to behave. Politics, says Lipson, "is more than a decision-making process. It must be a combination of empirical analysis and of ethical evaluation". The problems of human welfare including justice, liberty, security etc., are the objects of political research and politics. The political scientist can adequately deal with them when he investigates their "ought-side" as carefully as their "is-side". Society exists for the satisfaction of human needs and demands. Since in a given society the needs are varied and conflicting, there must be certain norms for guiding the choice. Political ideals and conceptions of the good life enter in here. By denying this the behaviouralists are involved in the study of those activities which are concerned with the "alleviation of personal neurosis or with promoting the private or private interest-group advantage", having no concern for the other groups or for the public interest and for the future. These activities though resemble political activity, says one critic, are nothing but "pseudo-political".

Finally, the efforts of the behaviouralists lack relevance in a world threatened by nuclear and population explosions, environmental pollution, urban problems, civil rights, and poverty because they favour 'pure' research. Critics argue that political scientists have a moral obligation to devote some of their energies to immediate social problems and questions of public policy. Just as pure research often yields findings of practical value, so applied research may contribute to the better understanding of political and social behaviour.

Considering the contributions of the behaviouralists and the views of the anti-behaviouralists we may say that the political scientists must acknowledge the limitations of methodology and pay more attention to human needs and questions of public policy. The behavioural approach undoubtedly adds to our store of knowledge by providing verified conditional statements, as says Prof. M. Q. Sibley, "but it cannot by itself and alone build a practical philosophy and science of politics." Evidence is growing that a "post-behavioural' phase has started in the direction suggested. 

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