Political Epistemology

Political epistemology means (to us) the study of political ideas and knowledge—as variables that affect political action, as objects of political disputation, and as products of political behavior and institutions. In all of these respects ideas and knowledge have both empirical and normative implications that haven’t been sufficiently studied by political scientists and political theorists.

At the 2013 meetings of the American Political Science Association (APSA), we co-chaired a roundtable on political epistemology at which we announced our intention to create an APSA organized Political Epistemology section. To achieve this end, we need the signatures (electronic signatures and emailed signatures are fine) of 200 APSA members by December 31, 2013.

Please sign the petition below and join our effort to encourage the normative and empirical study of political knowledge and ideas. And please inform other APSA members that they can sign the petition, too.

  • Jeffrey Friedman, Department of Government, University of Texas at Austin
    Coeditor, Political Knowledge (4 vols.) (Routledge 2013)
    Coeditor, The Nature of Belief Systems Reconsidered (Routledge 2012)
    P.O. Box 869, Helotes, TX 78023
    fax (210) 372-9947
  • Hélène Landemore, Department of Political Science, Yale University
    Author, Democratic Reason (Princeton 2013)
    Co-Editor, Collective Wisdom (Cambridge 2012)


The Petition

We, the undersigned, petition to create an organized section of APSA devoted to Political Epistemology. The purpose of the section will be to encourage the empirical and normative study of political knowledge and information. Since the definition of “knowledge” is often contested, political epistemology means the study of (1) the empirical role in political behavior of perceptions, theories, and other ideational factors; (2) the sources of these factors; (3) the accuracy of political actors’ perceptions and other ideas (the value of their knowledge and information); and (4) the normative implications of items 1-3.

We envisage the Political Epistemology section as integrative rather than as encouraging subdisciplinary fragmentation. It will bring empirical researchers in public opinion studies, political psychology, political communication, literature, and film into dialogue with normative theorists who are concerned with the role of knowledge, information, and opinion in the generation of political legitimacy. We also view political epistemology as a potential catalyst for new research in the three empirical subdisciplines on political institutions as knowledge-aggregating and knowledge-producing systems and on the limits and flaws of such systems. While much attention has been paid to electorates’ political knowledge and information, there is comparatively little research on the sources and adequacy of the information and ideas that affect legislative, regulatory, and judicial decision making.

Awards, panels, and publications created by the Political Epistemology section will aim to encourage the integration of normative and empirical approaches to political epistemology. Governance will be according to standard by-laws approved during the first business meeting.
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