Princeton and the Behavioral Revolution

What is happening at Princeton University? My sense of this is not exactly systematic, but it is real–Princeton’s political science faculty seems not to have become capture to many of the methodological features of the behavioral revolution that have captured many of the political science departments of other universities, at least when it comes to the study of law and courts.

Consider, first, that Princeton’s political science department is called its Department of Politics rather than its Department of Political Science. At the time when the behavioral revolution (or more exactly, the attitudinal revolution) was initially sweeping political science studies of courts, Princeton had the interdisciplinary but not really deeply attitudinal Walter Murphy (who in many ways followed in the steps of Edward Corwin). Now, Princeton has had on its politics faculty in recent times Gary Bass, Christopher Eisgruber, Kenneth Kersch, Andrew Moravcsik, Kim Lane Scheppele, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Keith Whittington, and Jennifer Widner–all writing about courts and law, one way or another.

All first-rate scholars, but none really behavioralists. Compare this to the approach to courts and law of other elite political science departments, where scholars either ignore courts altogether (if Cindy Skach does not count, then Harvard has not really had a judicial politics scholar since Martin Shapiro left) or study courts as behavioralists. And even departments that have judicial politics scholars do not have as many as Princeton has now and has had in the past.

I cannot admit to as much knowledge about Princeton’s other departments, so I wonder if this is true of their other departments, and what explains these (notable) dissents from behavioralism in their political science department and potentially other departments…..

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8 Responses

  1. Patrick S. O'Donnell says:

    Well, I say good for them: Personally, I find behavioralism boring and unimaginative, using (a distorted picture of) the natural sciences as a paradigm for the social sciences. Look, if your faculty has such intellectual luminaries as Kwame Appiah, Charles Beitz, Richard Falk, Amy Gutmann, George Kateb, Robert Keohane, Stephen Macedo, and Philip Pettit, in addition to the “first-rate scholars” you cited above, then it would be wise not to have your department identify itself with the “attitudinal” or behavioral revolution. Department of Politics captures something of the depth and breadth of a field that Political Science does not.

  2. Patrick S. O'Donnell says:

    Incidentally, several books by Ian Shapiro capture something of the rationale behind and spirit of these “notable dissents” from behavioralism (e.g., The Flight from Reality in the Human Sciences, 2005).

  3. A.J. Sutter says:

    David: It’s unclear from your post what your attitude is toward behavioralism. (It might also help a more general readership, such as this practicing lawyer, if you gave a 25-words-or-less précis of what behavioralism is in this context. You mean like Kahneman & Tversky? B.F. Skinner? someone else? Better yet if you describe in more general terms.)

    When you say the department has “not become capture” to some ‘-ism’, then offhand that sounds like a good thing. Why should uniformity of thought be what a department seeks? Or do you think othwerwise? And what proportion or absolute number counts as “becoming capture”? What if there were one behavioralist in the bunch? Two?

    Generally, though, if you want to use this blog to expand the appeal of the topics you study, your posts should be less like shop talk directed to colleagues in your specialty: help the rest of us to understand why this matters.

  4. pingwing says:

    I share the views of those above who were unclear about your tone — at some points you seem to suggest that what is on display at Princeton is a good thing (e.g., “not to have become capture” [captured? prey?] sounds positive) while at others points you seem to think it would be desirable to have behaviourists (eg, “all first-rate … but none really behaviourists,” as it ought to be expected that a collection of first-rate scholars would include behaviourists).

    In any case, one needn’t think of this as a “dissent” from behaviourism. For example, there are lots of legal scholars now busily nosing about in the land of what they call “social norms,” and many others who study law & society but who do not style their work in this manner. Does that make them dissenters from ‘social norms’ scholarship? Many are doing what they have been doing for a while – before the advent of ‘social norms.’ People who don’t join trendy movements needn’t therefore be deemed dissenters. Maybe they are just interested in other things.

  5. Law Prof says:

    David, I do not know much about your background. If you are not familiar with recent debates in the discipline of political science and the law & courts subfield, then you may be interested in looking up books and articles on the “perestroika” movement in political science (urging greater respect for qualitative methodologies and post-behavioralist work in the leading journals and PhD training programs). Princeton has always held a unique and prestigious position in the law & courts subfield. Part of that is due to an emphasis on constitutional history & theory, as opposed to quantitative work in the behavioralist/attitudinalist vein. It’s not a new development at all.

  6. David Fontana says:

    Thank you to everyone for your interesting comments. My post was not meant to take a position on the behavioral revolution, positive or negative, but was just meant to note how Princeton has differed from other political science departments in its treatment of behavioral scholarship in the judicial politics field. It is true that Princeton has indeed always been a little different, going back a while–probably going back even to Woodrow Wilson (even before Corwin and others). But it is now particularly interesting that their courts people don’t do behavioral work, because of the emergence of judicial politics scholarship–and the emergence and dominance of behavioral approaches in judicial politics scholarship.

  7. A.J. Sutter says:

    Again, it is difficult to understand why this difference matters, in the absence of any explanation of the context. Your non-position on the issue makes the topic all the more enigmatic for those of us not in this specialty.

  8. grad student says:

    I would add the University of Texas at Austin to your list of primarily non-behavioral/quant public law departments. Gary Jacobsohn, HW Perry, Scot Powe, Sandy Levinson, Gretchen Ritter, Daniel Brinks, etc.