Forging a Discipline: A Critical Assessment of Oxfords Development of the Study of Politics and International Relations in Comparative Perspective

Forging a Discipline analyses the growth of the academic discipline of politics and international relations at Oxford University over the last hundred years.

 

This century marked the maturity and professionalisation of social science disciplines such as political science, economics, and sociology in the worlds leading universities. The Oxford story of teaching and research in politics provides one case study of this transformation, and the contributors aim to use its specifics better to understand this general process.

In their introductory and concluding chapters the editors argue that Oxford is a critical case to consider because several aspects of the university and its organisation seem, at first glance, to militate against disciplinary development and growth. Various aspects of Oxfords institutional structure, such as the autonomy colleges enjoyed from the central university until quite recently, its proximity to the practice of government and politics through the supply of a steady stream of senior administrators, politicians and prime ministers, and its emphasis on undergraduate teaching through intensive small group tutorials, have all distinguish the development of teaching and research on politics in the university from most of its competitors.

These themes inform the books chapters in which the contributors examine: the founding of the first dedicated position in political science in the university, the study of the British Constitution and the development of electoral studies, the introduction and consolidation of international relations into the Oxford social science curriculum in contrast to the way in which war studies emerged, the commitment to research and teaching in political theory, the careful harvesting of area studies, particularly of Latin America and Eastern Europe including Russia, and the distinctive role of Oxfords two social science graduate colleges, Nuffield and St Antonys, in fostering a graduate programme of study and research.

What emerges from these historically researched and analytical accounts is the surprising capacity of members of the politics discipline at Oxford to forge a leading place for their scholarly perspectives and research in such core parts of the discipline as political theory, the study of comparative politics as a subject rather than as an area, ideas about order in international relations and the scientific study of elections in Britain and comparatively. That these achievements occurred in a university lacking the formal system of hierarchy and, until the last decade, departmentalization makes this volume a valuable addition to studies of the professionalization of social science research and teaching in modern universities.

Professor Christopher Hood is Gladstone Professor of Government, Fellow, All Souls College

Professor Gillian Peele is Associate Professor in Politics and Tutorial Fellow, Lady Margaret Hall

Professor Desmond King is Andrew Mellon Professor of American Government and Professorial Fellow, Nuffield College