What is Political Theory?
Political theory is one of the classical sub-fields of political science. It deals with the foundations of political science analysis in the philosophy of science, with the history and influence of political ideas and with instruments for the empirical and normative analysis of political institutions and processes. We cannot do political science without political theory!
In philosophy of science, we consider political science as an academic discipline and seek to understand the conditions and criteria of scientific knowledge. What distinguishes scientific from non-scientific statements and argumentation? Under what conditions can we claim to have explained a causal relationship or to have justified a normative judgement?
The history of political ideas is concerned with how concepts and ideas arose in historical contexts and have changed over time in their use and interpretation. What did Aristotle or Rousseau mean when they spoke of democracy? How did their ideas shape our thinking about democracy and how do they differ from contemporary understandings of democracy?
Empirical (or "positive") political theories aim to understand and explain connections between different properties of political actors and institutions and events and developments and, in some cases, even to make predictions about future events. They develop analytical tools and models to explain, for example, why some countries redistribute more than others.
Normative theories serve to develop and justify criteria for the evaluation of political institutions, programmes and developments. Through the development and systematic application of normative theories, statements about how things should be can be justified. Thus, normative theories are no less relevant to practice than empirical theories.
What does the "Political Theory and Public Policy" group do?
In our group, we understand empirical and normative questions and theories as being closely connected. Normative theories contain assumptions about empirical conditions and interrelationships. The contain assumptions about, for example, how well citizens are informed about politics and whether they base their voting decisions on their material interests or on ideas about a "common good". Empirical theories use normative concepts such as that of democracy: if we want to measure democracy and study its effects on economic development, we must first clarify what constitutes a democratic political system. This is not possible without normative yardsticks.
In teaching, we focus on the connections and complementarity between political theory and empirical research and relate to current events and political challenges. This also involves the question of how concrete political measures, practices and decisions are to be explained and evaluated - here is the link to the topic of "public policy".
In research, the members of our group work on questions of democratic theory and the empirical study of democracy, especially on deliberative theories of democracy, representation, democratic innovations and citizen participation.