Tightrope walking: The future of political science

MFlinders-new-smallMatthew Flinders

This blog post was originally published on the OUPblog on 2 October 2016. The original post can be accessed at:  http://blog.oup.com/2016/10/future-political-science-impact-phase/

Imagine standing at the edge of a precipice. A combination of forces are pushing at your back, biting at your heels and generally forcing you to step into an unknown space. A long thin tightrope without any apparent ending stretches out in front of you and appears to offer your only lifeline. Doing nothing and standing still is not an option. You lift up your left foot and gingerly step out….

Such dramatic prose is rarely associated with the study of politics but it strikes me that the notion of being forced to walk a tightrope is strangely apt at the present time. Having spent the last three weeks travelling around Western Europe and contributing to debates and discussions about the future of political science it seems that, from Manchester to Milan, and from Prague to Porto, the discipline finds itself on the cusp of a distinctive new phase in its history.

Let us, for the sake of simplicity, refer to this as ‘the impact phase’ and define it as being marked by the imposition of external requirements to demonstrate the relevance and direct effects of scholarship beyond the lecture theatre and seminar room. What my recent travels have revealed is that although ‘the impact phase’ has emerged very rapidly and aggressively in the United Kingdom, it is emerging— albeit in a softer, less instrumental, ‘impact-lite’ version — as a key issue in a host of countries. Moreover, those countries are well aware of the UK’s historical role as a testing ground for New Public Management inspired reforms within higher education that frequently ripple-out across the world. Continue reading

Claims of the increasing irrelevance of universities are ideology masquerading as evidence

Matthew Flinders
Matthew Flinders

By Matthew Flinders, Will Jennings and Gerry Stoker. This was originally published on the Political Studies Association blog.

In a recent column in The Telegraph, Allister Heath claims that the humanities and social sciences are suffering from increasing groupthink, inwardness and irrelevance – creating an environment in which certain political outlooks are suppressed and academic research rarely resonates beyond the hallowed halls of the university. Such an account simply does not square with the realities of universities in 21st Century Britain. Heath praises the University world of the twentieth century but then neglects the golden rule that drove that work and is still present in twenty-first century academia: make sure you have robust evidence to support your arguments. In terms of academic research, the supposed thought police of the left are in little evidence in the pluralistic university faculties that we know across the U.K., places in which rich debates over theory and methods take place.

When it comes to Heath’s arguments over the narrow reach of academic research in terms of citation, Heath’s arguments rely on tenuous evidence. The claim that “98 per cent of academic papers in the arts and humanities are never cited in any subsequent research” comes from a twenty-five year old study that was at the time shown to have been misleading. Continue reading

Research With and For Marginalised Communities

Andrew Ryder
Andrew Ryder

by Andrew Ryder, Fellow at the University of Bristol, Associate Fellow at the Third Sector Research Centre, University of Birmingham, and Visiting Professor at Corvinus University Budapest.

It is my contention that universities are institutions of central importance in maintaining humanist values. Alas we live in age where such a vision seems to be at risk through an audit culture which seems to commodify and tame knowledge production.  I come from a background of service provision and activism, as a teacher and later community organiser working for Gypsy, Traveller and Roma (GTR) communities, and have sought to base this work on emancipatory practice.  Since I started lecturing full time in higher education five years ago, through employment at the Corvinus University Budapest and a series of fellowships at the University of Bristol and Third Sector Research Centre, Birmingham, I have sought to fuse my previous background of emancipatory work with knowledge production. This has primarily been achieved by promoting collaborative research with GTR communities.  There is a growing interest in the co-production of research knowledge involving academics working in partnership with marginalised citizens and communities. However, the concept of community participation in research – certainly as equal partners – has been, and remains, contested. Is the knowledge generated ‘tainted’ by activism and engagement or can it be critical and objective? Continue reading