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Rather than challenge or go beyond the limitations of scientism

in conventional political studies, the authors generally embrace

the natural scientific method of quantitative data analysis

as the model of empirical political science. . . .  Hence, little

new knowledge about politics emerges in this text. 



Books by Floyd W. Hayes, III

A Turbulent Voyage: Readings in African American Studies / Forty Acres and a Mule: The Rape of Colored Americans

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No New Thinking on Africana Politics and Philosophy

By Floyd W. Hayes, III

Wilbur C. Rich. 2007. Ed. African American Perspectives on Political Science.


Perhaps since the 1950s, the discipline of American political studies has sought status as a natural science, early on shifting from a focus on political history to an attraction to the political present.  Reading the essays in African American Perspectives on Political Science, which is edited by Wilbur Rich, brought back memories of 40 years ago during a period of rapid political change in America and throughout the world, when as a graduate student at UCLA, I attended lectures of the renown Jamaican social anthropologist M. G. Smith, who pointed out the limitations of structural-functionalism and systems analysis as dominant American approaches to the study of politics. 

His eminent critique of the assumptions and conservatism of these theoretical models is memorable because the discipline of political studies was embracing structural-functionalism at a moment when political anthropology had jettisoned this approach because of its emphasis on political stability.  Moreover, American students of politics sought to employ systems analysis, expecting to transform politics studies into something on the order of a natural science.   Significantly, in a rapidly changing world, the essentially conservative structural-functionalism and systems analysis proved inadequate for the task of examining the political conflicts and struggles of the time.  The attempt to subordinate the politics of the human to scientism proved unsuccessful.

The turbulent social movements of the 1960s and 1970s, initiated by the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements, shifted the geography of intellectual production in America from a strictly white masculine enterprise to a more poly-cultural scholarship.  The result was the emergence of the “new” studies: Black Studies, Latino Studies, Asian-American Studies, Native American Studies, and Women’s Studies.  Each of these inter-disciplinary interventions affected, in one way or another, all of the human sciences in the United States of America.  In general, the new studies sought to challenge, correct, and go beyond conventional academic disciplinary scholarship.  However, their impact was uneven.  The disciplines of literature, history, and sociology were strongly influenced, as the explosion of new scholarly books, journals, and articles indicated.   Political studies, along with philosophy, economics, and anthropology, seemed less influenced.

In the 1970s and 1980s, and still seeking to elevate its status as a natural science, the discipline of political studies became enthralled by the behavioral movement, which emphasized such intellectual maneuvers as the philosophy of science, empiricism, mathematical modeling, econometrics, and the statistical analysis of large collections of data, especially survey data.  However, a crisis of knowledge in political studies emerged when thoughtful and thought-provoking discourse retreated to “facts,” as if they spoke for themselves. 

Political scientists seemed to forget that the meaning of facts is not self-evident; all facts need to be interpreted.  Hence, in the absence of quantitatively derived “facts,” behavioral political scientists seemed averse to offering meaningful analyses of politics and government.  Consequently, the hegemony of behavioralism did not produce a science of politics; political scientists actually could not engage in political experimentation or predict political behavior.  Perhaps the drive for a scientistic politics constrained the development of new knowledge about politics.  Thus, a post-behavioral persuasion caught fire among many students of political affairs.

The 1980s also witnessed a linguistic turn in American human sciences with the intervention of continental European philosophical, literary, and psychological perspectives. This development gave rise to a renewed interest in political philosophy—beyond the focus on such traditional concerns as the state, citizenship, obligation, democracy, and power.  Too, political theory witnessed a shift in its conventional geography of reason, renewing an interest in the long overlooked tradition of skepticism, pessimism, existentialism, and nihilism that can be traced back to ancient Greek and Roman thinkers, and exhibited in modern times by the heretical philosopher Nietzsche.  Although political scientists generally had ignored the demand for interdisciplinary studies, a made by “new studies” during the late 1960s and 1970s, the 1980s found a resurgence of disciplinary boundary crossing, as more political scientists explored connections with psychology, sociology, and literature in order to theorize new dimensions of the political. 

Moreover, as the reality of the “new studies” could no longer be ignored, political science grudgingly began a gradual break with its white masculine hegemony.  The emerging significance of black political scientists also seemed to signal a change in the discipline’s subject matters, themes, and approaches.  While not representing dominant approaches to the study of politics, the post-behavioral movement spawned a plethora of thought-provoking questions that caught the attention of a new generation of political scientists.

In some ways, the book under review represents the historical transformation of political studies discussed above.  Yet, this would-be progressive development is truncated because most of the volume’s essays are written within the shadow of dominant American political-science scholarship, as they scarcely challenge the discipline’s received assumptions, theories, and analytical approaches.  In general—there are a few exceptions that I will discuss—we do not find in this text new ideas, new concepts, new theories, new approaches, or new thinking about thinking itself.  Rather, here is a set of essays whose authors essentially bow to the intellectual altars of liberal pluralism and political behavioralism. 

Rather than challenge or go beyond the limitations of scientism in conventional political studies, the authors generally embrace the natural scientific method of quantitative data analysis as the model of empirical political science.  As Caribbean philosopher Lewis Gordon has written, a crisis of knowledge emerges when there is a retreat “toward a form of naturalism that subordinates thinking to the natural sciences.”[i]  Hence, little new knowledge about politics emerges in this text.  Written within the disciplinary power of behavioral political science, this book is not a product of provocative or powerful thinking that is necessary for the twenty-first century.  Indeed, most of the eighteen essays in this text easily could have been published ten or more years ago!

The book’s title encourages the anticipation of particular perspectives on the discipline of political science—specifically, African American perspectives.  Hence, part of my strategy in reading the book was to identify and understand the meaning of these various perspectives.  I searched in vain.  In the Introduction, Wilbur Rich, the book’s editor states the volume’s subject, theme, and purpose as follows: “This collection of essays is about political science as seen through the eyes of African American political scientists—their assessment of the subfields, their views about the quality of race-related research and their regrets about the omissions in the literature.  The central theme is that race matters in politics, not only nationally but internationally.” 

He notes that the omissions hinder an understanding of racial and ethnic conflict and, therefore, require a variety of perspectives in order to contend with the “danger of unconscious insularity in methodology and outlook.”  “For this reason,” Rich writes, “we African American political scientists have a special responsibility to rethink the norms, canons, and directions of the discipline” (p. 1).  Except for a few essays, which I will mention by name, the book falls far short of these lofty goals.  In point of fact, the essays scarcely break new ground; they generally accept the dominant methodology, norms, and canons of conventional political science.  In general, this volume does not offer the kind of insights that can guide black political research and practice into the twenty-first century of new knowledge, science, and technology.

African American Perspectives on Political Science is comprised of five parts.  “Race and Political Scientists” contains three essays that are contextual; they review the literature of conventional political-science research, arguing that the discipline has consistently evaded racial and ethnic politics and the challenges black political scientists face in seeking to advance in the discipline.  There are two essays in “Globalization and Transnational Politics.” one provides a comparative analysis of blacks in Latin American politics, and the other examines competing theoretical frameworks employed in the study of social change and political development.

In “Civic Engagement and Voting,” four interesting essays analyze the complexity of black public opinion; the changing character of political attitudes about black feminism; the interconnections of race, class, and gender in the organizational politics and civic activities of black women; and an examination of the academic trajectory and political activism of a member of the first generation of blacks to earn a Ph.D. in political science.  Each of these essays tackles issues of considerable significance to contemporary studies in political science.  Hence, I want to give them specific attention. 

For Melissa V. Harris-Lacewell, the author of “Political Science and the Study of African American Public Opinion,” black identity is a complicated phenomenon wherein the intersectionality of class, gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity (e.g., African American, African, and Caribbean identities) play significant roles in the formation and analysis of black public opinion.  In her essay, “A Black Gender Gap?: Continuity and Change in Attitudes toward Black Feminism,” Evelyn M. Simien employs survey data to examine black attitudes about black feminism over a ten-year period.  Long ignored, the centrality of black women’s political concerns to the lived experiences of blacks in America receives the attention it deserves under Simien’s empirical observation. 

Much like Simien’s, Andrea Y. Simpson’s essay is significant because it focuses on the neglected issues of middle class black women’s organizational politics and working class black women’s grassroots organizing and community political activism.  She demonstrates that in the face of “democratic inequality” and black patriarchy, black women historically have engaged in the politics of black women’s advancement.  Today when black professional academics no longer are active in political struggles or even outspoken critics in the public sphere, Martin Kilson, a member of the second generation of black political science Ph.D.s, reminds us of a time when black professional political scientists also were intellectual warriors actively engaged in anti-racist struggles.

Political Institutions,” includes three essays that treat the Congressional Black Caucus, critical race and legal studies, and presidential leadership.  “The Subfields,” includes six essays that examine the evasion of racial politics in a number of political-science sub-disciplines: comparative politics, public administration, urban politics, international politics, and the US constitution.  Significantly, this section’s last contribution, “Political Science Confronts Afro-America: A Reconsideration,” by Jerry Watts, deserves special attention.  Undoubtedly, the most outstanding essay in the book, it should have been the lead essay.  Its discursive power, theoretical breadth, and critical perspective constitute an excellent example of analyzing trends, developments, and future challenges related to conventional political science. 

Watts issues a strong indictment of the discipline, even as practiced by many black political scientists: its failure to theorize white supremacy, anti-black racism, and black resistance and struggle; its inadequacy in dealing with black political action because of a limited white conception of the political; its sole focus on voting to the exclusion of other forms of political activity; its definition of blackness as the essential and sole political identity of blacks (i.e., the singular “black community,” or monolithic black political interest) to the exclusion of more complex ideological, class, or other differences; its refusal to analyze blacks as subjugators, as in cases of male chauvinism or homophobia, especially in black organizational arrangements like the black church; and its evasion of the lived experiences of black oppression and exploitation by white political theorists of the so-called liberal democratic tradition in America.  Watts refers to this last item as liberal theorizing as if blacks are parenthetical to the American experience. He concludes with a searing indictment.

The entire edifice of whiteness, an edifice that undergirds the construction of American politics from the days of the Continental Congress through yesterday, is premised on being nonblack or non black-like.  Upon this edifice of whiteness, generations of immigrants from diverse European nations became “Americanized.”  Given the centrality of blacks and the black historical experience to all aspects of American identity formation, the black-as-parenthetical arguments of Dahl, Hartz, Lipset, and Walzer are not only morally bankrupt but empirically shallow and analytically erroneous (p. 428).

Reading Watts’ essay encouraged me to think of the performance of the jazz ensemble.  Each member plays in concert with other members.  However, a powerful solo improvisation forces other members to elevate their performances.  In the instance of this book, Watts’ intellectual improvisation on white political science is scarcely matched by any of the other essayists.  This is disappointing.  Watts is singular in his critique of conventional political science.  Indeed, none of the other authors offers anything close to his unambiguous indictment. 

Ultimately, I find this book wanting, for several reasons.  First, its organizational logic is problematic.  All of the sections contain essays that discuss subfields of political science.  So, why give this label to the last set of essays?  The editor never provides a rationale for this peculiar decision.  Second, how does a text, in which black political scientists evaluate their discipline, contain no chapters on African and Caribbean politics? Third, why doesn’t this book treat the important and foundational sub-discipline of history of black political thought and black political philosophy?  For a book published as recently as 2007, these are serious limitations.

Finally, my strongest criticism of this volume is its generally mild challenge to conventional political science.  In the face of black invisibility the essayists fail to issue an indictment of white political scientists; rather, seem to merely lament this non-recognition.  The sole exception is Jerry Watts, who states his strong objection to conventional American political studies.  What is most disappointing, given the book’s intent to evaluate conventional political-science scholarship, is the extent to which most of the essayists are themselves caught within the intellectual parameters of conventional political science.  They generally offer no new knowledge that goes beyond the discipline’s dominant scientific methodology, theoretical framework, or liberalism.

The twenty-first century should not find black political scientists whining about being excluded from white political science.  Rather, the new era demands that black political scientist develop new ideas, new concepts, new approaches, new knowledge, and even new thinking about thinking itself.  Black political scientists might look for guidance at developments in the discipline of philosophy.  For example, the last two decades have witnessed the rise of Africana philosophy, which has sought to challenge, correct, and go beyond a discipline that once considered blacks as subhuman.  The result is the broadening of philosophy.  Africana philosophy constitutes a set of questions that arises as result of living in an anti-black world.[ii]  These are the experiences existing on the underside of modern western development, as the west offered lofty principles of freedom, justice, equality, reason, etc., but refused to apply these values to subjugated black peoples in Africa and the African Diaspora. 

Therefore, a positive alternative to black invisibility in white political science is the similar reconceptualization of that discipline: the development of Africana political studies.  Positive alternatives challenge, correct, and go beyond white political science: Africana political studies to broaden the discipline of political studies: Africa, Caribbean, and Black American politics; Africana political philosophy.  What should Africana politics and political thought be now?  Africana politics and political philosophy entail a set of questions that respond to black people’s lived experience in an anti-black world.  Shouldn’t Africana politics have as its logos the production of new knowledge necessary for the social development, political advancement, and collective survival of black people in an anti-black world?  Shouldn’t Africana political studies seek the kind of political wisdom and truth that can guide human conduct?

Unfortunately, the narrow methodological focus of African American Perspectives on Political Science constrains the quest for and development of new knowledge.  The study of politics is not a science.  Students of Africana politics might do well to step back from the quest for scientific legitimacy and acknowledge that that political truth and wisdom are not something that can be squeezed neatly into a political-science text.  Moreover, the essays in this book generally exhibit a severely limited vision of the political.  Hence, Africana political studies could benefit enormously from an infusion of interdisicplinarity; distinguished books in Africana philosophy, literature, sociology, psychology, history, anthropology, and economics can encourage political scientists to deal with larger matters of social development rather than the needs of a single academic discipline.  Therefore, I cannot recommend this book for graduate or undergraduate courses in political science, public policy, or Africana Studies. 


[i] Lewis R. Gordon. 2006. Disciplinary Decadence: Living Thought in Trying Times. Bolder: Paradigm Publishers, pp. 1-2.

[ii] See Lewis R. Gordon. 2008. An Introduction to Africana Philosophy. New York: Cambridge University Press; Kwame Gyekye. 1997. Tradition and Modernity: Philosophical Reflections on the African Experience. New York: Oxford University Press; Leonard Harris. 1983. Ed. Philosophy Born of Struggle: Anthology of Afro-American Philosophy from 1917. Dubuque: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company; Paget Henry. 2000. Caliban’s Reason: Introducing Afro-Caribbean Philosophy. New York: Routledge; Lucius T. Outlaw, Jr. 1996. On Race and Philosophy. New York: Routledge.

posted 30 August 2008

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From Black Power to Black Studies

How a Radical Social Movement Became an Academic Discipline

By Fabio Rojas

The black power movement helped redefine African Americans' identity and establish a new racial consciousness in the 1960s. As an influential political force, this movement in turn spawned the academic discipline known as Black Studies. Today there are more than a hundred Black Studies degree programs in the United States, many of them located in America’s elite research institutions. In From Black Power to Black Studies, Fabio Rojas explores how this radical social movement evolved into a recognized academic discipline. Rojas traces the evolution of Black Studies over more than three decades, beginning with its origins in black nationalist politics. His account includes the 1968 Third World Strike at San Francisco State College, the Ford Foundation’s attempts to shape the field, and a description of Black Studies programs at various American universities. His statistical analyses of protest data illuminate how violent and nonviolent protests influenced the establishment of Black Studies programs. Integrating personal interviews and newly discovered archival material, Rojas documents how social activism can bring about organizational change.

The Trouble with Black Studies—Scott McLemee—9 May 2012—Black studies was undeniably a product of radical activism in the late 1960s and early ‘70s. Administrators established courses only as a concession to student protesters who had a strongly politicized notion of the field’s purpose. “From 1969 to 1974,” Rojas writes, “approximately 120 degree programs were created,” along with “dozens of other black studies units, such as research centers and nondegree programs,” plus professional organizations and journals devoted to the field. But to regard black studies as a matter of academe becoming politicized (as though the earlier state of comprehensive neglect wasn’t politicized) misses the other side of the process: “The growth of black studies,” Rojas suggests, “can be fruitfully viewed as a bureaucratic response to a social movement.”

By the late 1970s, the African-American sociologist St. Clair Drake (co-author of Black Metropolis, a classic study of Chicago to which Richard Wright contributed an introduction) was writing that black studies had become institutionalized “in the sense that it had moved from the conflict phase into adjustment to the existing educational system, with some of its values accepted by that system…. A trade-off was involved. Black studies became depoliticized and deradicalized.” That, too, is something of an overstatement—but it is far closer to the truth than denunciations of black-studies programs, which treat them as politically volatile, yet also as well-entrenched bastions of power and privilege.

As of 2007, only about 9 percent of four-year colleges and universities had a black studies unit, few of them with a graduate program. Rojas estimates that “the average black studies program employs only seven professors, many of whom are courtesy or joint appointments with limited involvement in the program”while in some cases a program is run by “a single professor who organizes cross-listed courses taught by professors with appointments in other departments.” The field “has extremely porous boundaries,” with scholars who have been trained in fields “from history to religious studies to food science.”

Rojas found from a survey that 88 percent of black studies instructors had doctoral degrees. Those who didn’t “are often writers, artists, and musicians who have secured a position teaching their art within a department of black studies.” As for faculty working primarily or exclusively in black studies, Rojas writes that “the entire population of tenured and tenure-track black studies professors—855 individuals—is smaller than the full-time faculty of my own institution.” In short, black studies is both a small part of higher education in the United States and a field connected by countless threads to other forms of scholarship.

The impetus for its creation came from African-American social and political movements. But its continued existence and development has meant adaptation to, and hybridization with, modes of enquiry from long-established disciplines. Such interdisciplinary research and teaching is necessary and justified because (what I am about to say will be very bold and very controversial, and you may wish to sit down before reading further) it is impossible to understand American life, or modernity itself, without a deep engagement with African-American history, music, literature, institutions, folklore, political movements, etc.

In a nice bit of paradox, that is why C.L.R. James was so dubious about black studies when it began in the 1960s. As author of The Black Jacobins and The History of Negro Revolt, among other classic works, he was one of the figures students wanted to be made visiting professor when they demanded black studies courses. But when he accepted, it was only with ambivalence. "I do not believe that there is any such thing as black studies," he told an audience in 1969. ". . . I only know, the struggle of people against tyranny and oppression in a certain social setting, and, particularly, the last two hundred years. It's impossible for me to separate black studies and white studies in any theoretical point of view."insidehighered

 Left of Black: Race, Writing and the Attack on Black Studies

with Adam Mansbach & La TaSha Levy

Host and Duke University Professor Mark Anthony Neal is joined via Skype by writer Adam Mansbach, the author of several books including Angry Black White Boy (2005), The End of the Jews  (2008) and the New York Times Bestseller Go the F**K to Sleep.  Mansbach discusses the inspiration for Macon Detornay—the protagonist of Angry Black White Boy—the surprise success of his “adult children’s book” and his new graphic novel Nature of the Beast.  Finally Neal and Mansbach discuss race in the Obama era and the legacy of the Beastie Boys.

Later, Neal is joined, also via Skype, by LaTaSha B. Levy, doctoral candidate in the Department of African-American Studies at Northwestern University.  Levy and several of her colleagues including Keeanga Yamahtta Taylor and Ruth Hayes, the subjects of a celebratory profile in The Chronicle of Higher Education, were later attacked by a blogger at the same publication, raising questions about the continued hostility directed towards the field of Black Studies.  Neal and Levy discuss the responses to the attack, as well as her research on the rise of Black Republicans.newblackman

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. —Publishers Weekly

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. WashingtonPost

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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Related files: Africa or America: The Emphasis in Black Studies Programs   Askia Touré and Marvin X on Black Studies    Black Studies Forty Years Later

    No New Thinking on Africana Politics and Philosophy  Interview with Franklin Knight  Black Studies in the Age of Obama    Reading Africana

   Stirrings in the Jug Adolph Reed    Introduction White Nationalism  Legitimacy to Lead   No New Thinking on Africana Politics and Philosophy