Struggling to Address the ‘Big and Burning’ Questions: The Opportunities and Perils of (Austrian) Political Science Going Mainstream


  • Reinhard Heinisch Institut für Politikwissenschaft, Universität Innsbruck



relevance, political science, mainstream, puzzle-solving, Austria


This essay raises the question of whether mainstream political science fails to address adequately the important questions about the state of democracy that are dominating the current public discourse. Increasingly common research practices in mainstream political science focus on technical questions and puzzle-solving while incentivizing conventional approaches and narrow risk-averse scholarship. This threatens political science’s ability to contribute meaningfully to the public discourse. Under these circumstances, the Austrian branch of the discipline is joining mainstream international political science in a quest for greater relevance after decades of marginalization. The article traces the evolution of postwar international and Austrian political science, suggesting that the current focus on puzzle-solving is a reaction to previously dominant paradigms in the discipline that made grand claims on the basis of few data. The essay also shows that the delayed establishment of Austrian political science as an academic discipline and its long disconnect from international developments in the field long undermined its recognition. Now that it is becoming more mainstream and international, there are unprecedented opportunities for greater prestige but also new perils to be avoided.







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