Political Science

In politics, you try to make a decision with several people. The word comes from the Greek: “polis” was the name given to cities in ancient Greece. It was about who was allowed to decide what and how. Mostly, when we think of the word politics, we think of what happens in the state and concerns many people.

Politics takes place in a particular state. The basis for it is a constitution, a special law. It describes which organs are allowed to do what. The most important organs are the parliament and the government.

Secondly, politics is about the so-called content. What exactly should be done? Should a municipality spend money on a swimming pool or on a school? For whom would which decision be good?

But it’s also important how decisions are reached. Sometimes it takes a long time, sometimes a short time. Maybe many people get to have a say, maybe very few or only one.

The science that deals with politics is political science. Political scientists or political scientists are interested in three things: political systems have to do with what bodies and what people do. Political ideas are what people have thought about good politics from ancient times to the present. International politics is the politics between states or for several states together.

What is Political science?

Political science –  science of politics, scientific politics or political science – is as integration science a part of the modern social sciences and deals with the scientific teaching and research of political processes, structures and contents as well as the political phenomena and actions of human coexistence. From its development as a scientific discipline in the broader sense, political science also belongs to the state sciences. Together with neighboring disciplines such as sociology, jurisprudence, history, economics and psychology, it has now developed an interdisciplinary field of study that extends beyond the state and its institutions as a subject of research.

The subject is subdivided into various subfields. The basic differentiation is between the fields of political theory (including political philosophy and the history of ideas), comparative politics (formerly comparative government or comparative analysis of political systems), and international relations (including international politics). In the case of a broader range of courses, as is the case at some universities, a distinction is also made, for example, between the sub-disciplines of systems or government studies, political sociology, political economy, political methodology, administrative science, public law and policy analysis or, more recently, gender studies.

Subject of research

Political science deals with the social coexistence of people and examines how this coexistence is regulated and can be regulated. Its subject matter thus extends fundamentally beyond a preoccupation with day-to-day politics. Its research interest requires the analysis of fundamental principles, interrelationships and mechanisms of cause and effect of human coexistence in its various forms. In doing so, it takes into account, among other things, institutional, procedural, factual-material and political-cultural aspects. Modern political science pays particular attention to the question of how state and civil society actors act, how political decision-making processes take place, and how power relations develop and influence social structures.

As early as antiquity, political philosophy and the philosophy of the state dealt almost normatively and ontologically with the question of how people could best live together. This can be traced back to the ancient Greek philosophers – especially Plato (Politeia – The State) and Aristotle – and is still the subject of philosophical and ideological political theory today. Political science was understood and conceived as a normative science even after its foundation as an academic discipline in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany after 1945 (“Demokratiewissenschaft”). The German tradition of police science and cameral science had been broken off from the 19th to the 20th century. In conjunction with jurisprudence, political science initially emerged as part of the state sciences, to which it can still be counted today, although the state and its functions are no longer its exclusive object of study.

Starting with the development of the discipline in the United States, political science was methodologically influenced more strongly by the emergence of behavioralism as well as by empirical-analytical methods oriented toward the social sciences since the 1960s. This was accompanied by an increasing orientation of the discipline toward positivist questions.

The goal of modern empirical political science is to determine relationships from the employment of society and its structures that explain and describe how people live together. This branch of the subject is strongly methodological and works both quantitatively and qualitatively. A final evaluation of the research results must be omitted here. Thus, this prominent branch of the subject is analytically and methodologically oriented towards the natural sciences and is generally still substantially influenced by US-American developments and innovations. This concerns especially the analytical stringency (use of mathematical models, the so-called theory of rational decision) as well as methodological rigor (use of statistical methods).

The subject is somewhat different in the area of modern theoretical or normative political science, which largely coincides with the more humanities-oriented subdiscipline of political theory: In connection with the long normative tradition of political science, social values are analyzed for their normative content and discussed and evaluated against the background of the history of ideas and philosophy. For example, the method of analytical-hermeneutic text interpretation or other qualitative procedures are used. Accordingly, the study of value judgments is sometimes at the center of political theory as a subdiscipline of political science. This is especially true for political philosophy as an emphatically normative political theory.

Name and term

Today, the term political science has replaced the former term political science, which is based on the Anglo-Saxon term political science. The terms science of politics or scientific politics have also fallen into disuse, as they were still widespread with the establishment of professorships at universities from the beginning of the 1950s. The term political science is preferred today because it makes the object of scientific endeavor, the study of politics and its processes, conceptually more comprehensible. This scientific concept of the subject has now been generally adopted at universities. Political science is not pursued for political motives, nor does it serve concretely political purposes. Based on the principle of value freedom, it strictly distinguishes between theoretical political science and real politics. A politician makes politics, a political scientist scientifically deals with political questions.

However, some traditional universities, including those that were the first to introduce the subject of politics in the post-war years, still use the classical terms Political Science, Science of Politics or Scientific Politics in their institute or seminar designations. The term political science, which was coined by university professors at the Otto Suhr Institute in Berlin in the 1950s, is also in common use, especially for graduates. The aforementioned terms are to be understood as largely synonymous. If, in the Federal Republic and in the wider German-speaking world, different terms are still used for the same scientific subject, this is primarily for cultural and scientific-historical reasons.

A derivation from the ancient Greek (epistéme politiké) is the term politology, in reference to modern sociology. However, this term was created without regard to the Greek; it should actually read politologie.

History of Political Science

For a long time, scholarly reflection on politics and its order took place within the framework of academic philosophy, especially in the tradition of political Aristotelianism. In the discourse of early modern imperial journalism, with its balancing of constitutional law on the one hand and political reality in view of the Old Empire on the other, a root of German political science can be seen. As early as the 18th century, Joseph von Sonnenfels taught “political science” at the University of Vienna. In the 19th century, subjects such as cameral science and policey science became established at universities in the German-speaking world. In doing so, the political science of the time continued approaches that had already been established since the early modern period by jurists, political philosophers, theologians and by historians.

However, a separate discipline did not develop in Germany until after the Second World War under U.S. influence. The activities of the German School of Political Science, which had been founded in Berlin in 1920 in the early phase of the Weimar Republic and existed until it was incorporated into the Berlin University in 1940, could be taken up. At that time, political science was essentially understood as the science of democracy.

After the Second World War, its self-image as a science of democracy and thus as a science of the functioning of democracy again took center stage. With its help, mediators such as teachers and journalists in particular were to be enabled to convey the democratic idea and to anchor democratic thinking in the population. Thus, early postwar German political science was mainly concerned with the analysis, functioning, and formal interaction of institutions such as political parties, trade unions, parliament, and the federal government. Today, this subject area is referred to as polity.

In other words, an attempt was made to analyze and understand the actual processes of will-forming and decision-making (politics).

In the development of political science in Germany, the Cologne School, the Freiburg School and the Marburg School emerged in the decades after the Second World War, each of which had and represented a specific understanding of the university subject.


Like its field of research, politics, political science also strives to specialize its observations, for example, on individual policy sectors such as health policy. This requires expertise in analyzing actual problems. This newer sub-discipline of political science, which deals with factual problems of individual policy areas, is called policy research or policy field research.

It plays an increasing role in policy advice, which is used by political decision-makers to obtain scientifically sound advice or to make and secure a political decision. However, the limits of the scientific nature of such consultations are often unclear – in many cases, they are “courtesy reports,” i.e., reports guided by interests that come to a result desired by the client.

The paradigms of integration studies and democratic studies are therefore increasingly being replaced today by the division of the discipline of political science into the sub-disciplines of polity, politics and policy.

A further subdivision of political science into subdisciplines, which is also commonly used for chair titles, is the subdivision into Political System (related to individual states, for example Germany; formerly: Regierungslehre), Political Theory, Political History, International Politics or International Relations, European Studies or European Politics, Comparative Political Science or Comparative Studies (formerly: Comparative Government, also Comparative Analysis of Political Systems).


  • October 12, 2022