What is Political Science?
Political science aims at a systematic and rigorous understanding of politics, both in explaining political phenomena and in exploring their ethical and normative dimensions. The discipline covers a broad range of subjects, from authoritarian to democratic politics, from local governance to international relations, from formal rules and institutions to the psychology and behavior of individuals who participate in political processes. Political scientists make use of data ranging from ancient texts, to satellite images, to surveys, to millions of Facebook posts, and analyze them with a diverse set of methods and tools, including qualitative and quantitative approaches.
Why Major in Political Science?
"Politics" is the process of deciding in groups, based on legitimate rules. The definition of "legitimate" is contentious, but the essence of the concept is the acceptance of choices and decisions, even by those who disagree. The alternatives to politics are conflict and violence, and for much of the history of the world, in many places, conflict and violence have been the norm. In the late 20th century many liberal nations took a complacent attitude toward the stability and acceptance of politics as an inviolable norm.
But no more. In many nations, even those that once seemed to have stable constitutions and predictable politics, disruptions from globalization, the growth of giant platforms with powers of surveillance and manipulation of algorithms, and movement based on a concern for losing national, racial, or cultural identities have raised deep questions about whether politics will survive, and how it will change.
Our newly redesigned major, first rolled out in the fall of 2022, develops critical and independent thinking skills and merges the traditional liberal arts approach with access to advanced data science techniques for learning and conveying information. The combination of classical normative considerations with modern analytical tools is a major deeply rooted in former president Richard Brodhead’s vision of a liberal arts education that “aims to engage multiple forms of intelligence to create deep and enduring habits of mind, an active, versatile, integrative spirit that’s naturally disposed, when it comes upon a new fact or situation, to use existing knowledge to try to grasp it, while updating existing understandings in this new light.”
Many political science majors take advantage of the complementarities between political science and other Duke programs. Some choose a double-major, for example, in Classical Studies, Economics, History, Mathematics, Philosophy, Psychology, Public Policy, Sociology, or Statistics. Others complete one of the certificate programs housed within the department including Politics, Philosophy, and Economics, and Decisions Sciences. Our students also regularly take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad as part of their political science coursework.
Upon graduation, our majors are highly successful, and pursue careers in diverse fields, including non-governmental and public interest organizations, think tanks, consulting, journalism, communications, local, state, and federal government, polling firms, finance, and business management. Many also go on to pursue graduate study in law, political science, public administration, or business administration.