The concepts of politics and political science are often confused and interchanged. Indeed, they deal with very similar topics, but they are deeply different in meaning.
The term “politics” refers to the state of affairs of a country, including the structure of its government and the decisions taken by the ruling party.
Conversely, the term “political science” refers to the theoretical analysis of all political systems, including their origins, their underlying values and their goals.
While the idea of politics refers to the concrete implementation of social and economic policies, political science provides a more comprehensive understanding of governance and gives us the tools to interpret the government’s actions.
What is Politics?
The term “politics” derives from the Greek word “Politika,” which literally means “affairs of the cities.” The concept of politics is rather complex as it includes:
- The decision-making process aimed at creating and implementing laws and norms within a country;
- The act of governing a country or a community;
- The act of controlling the country’s military apparatus;
- The act of creating strategies aimed at improving the lives of all citizens; and
- The act of managing the country’s economic resources.
The idea of politics is often associated with negative connotations, In fact, rulers, governments and politicians are often seen as corrupt and selfish entities, focused on maximizing personal gains rather than on promoting general welfare across the population.
What is Political Science?
As suggested by the name itself, “political science” is the study of theory and practice of politics and government at all levels: local, national, and international. Within the broad basket of political science, we can identify various subcategories, including:
- Political theory; this subject focuses on the roots of governance and on the human aspects that lead men to organize themselves in political groups;
- Comparative politics: this subject compares different types of governance (i.e. democracy, military regime, authoritarian regime, etc.) and analyzes their effects on the country’s growth and on the population’s welfare;
- Methodology: this subfield aims at clarifying the philosophical and theoretical basis upon which different political systems are based; and
- International relations: this subcategory focuses on the relations among states, on their interactions and on the political strategies that countries use at an international level.
All subcategories of political science provide a comprehensive theoretical background that allows us to interpret, understand and critically analyze a government’s policies and decisions.
Similarities between Politics and Political Science
Both politics and political science focus on governance and refer to the state of affairs of a given country – even though political science provides a more comprehensive and theoretical approach to the matter. Even though the two terms have a different meaning, politics and political science have some aspects in common:
- In both cases, the government and the structure of the country’s political system are the main subjects concerned;
- Politics and policies are often based on theoretical ideas and assumptions outlined and analyzed by political science; and
- All (or almost all) actions taken by politicians can be linked back to theories and theoretical paradigms inferred by the analysis of years (or even centuries) of politics.
While politics refers to the concrete legislative process and political science entails a higher degree of abstraction, the two concepts are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, politics could not exist without the theoretical foundation of political science and, in turn, political science would not exist without politics.
Difference between Politics and Political Science
The main difference between politics and political science is their area of concern. Politics focuses on the affairs of the state and includes the act of governing a country and the decision-making process. Conversely, political science is the “science of politics” and uses comparative, qualitative, and quantitative methods to achieve a comprehensive understanding of politics and governance. Some of the main differences between the two concepts are listed below:
The two concepts are strictly linked. Politics is often the object of study of political science and, at the same time, it draws on theories and paradigms outlined by political scientists;
The word of politics includes politicians, lobbyists and administrators; conversely, the world of political science includes political scientists, scholars and academics;
Theory vs practice:
While inferring its conclusions from the observation of governments and political players, political science usually remains at a more abstract/theoretical level. Political science provides the tools and theoretical background needed to understand reality and to foresee political choices. Conversely, the term politics refers to the concrete act of governing a country and to the decision-making process that leads politicians to act in certain ways; and
Politics aims (or should aim) at improving the welfare and conditions of all citizens and at promoting and implementing constructive policies. Conversely, political science aims at understanding different political paradigms and at providing a comprehensive theoretical framework that may explain reality.
Difference between Politics and Political Science
Understanding the world of politics is not an easy task. During history, we have witnessed an evolution of political structures and today we continue to see a wide variety of governments. For instance, while democracy is one of the most diffused forms of government, we need to distinguish between several subcategories (i.e. parliamentary democracy, liberal democracy, illiberal democracy, etc.).
As the reality continues to evolve, political theories are constantly developing, adapting and changing in order to provide a better representation of the world. As such, politics and political science remain strictly linked and intertwined. Yet, building on the differences outlined in the previous section, we can identify few other aspects that differentiate the two concepts.
|Scope||Politics affects all aspects of the citizens’ lives. It influences the country’s economic and social strategies as well as the government’s attitude towards core matters such as migration, economic recession, education, individual and collective rights, etc. Furthermore, the term politics refers to both internal and external policies.||As the science of politics is in constant evolution, its scope tends to vary and grow. Within the domain of political science we can identify several other disciplines and subcategories such as international relations, comparative politics, national and international politics, political theory, political philosophy, etc.|
|Practitioners vs Theorist||Politicians and administrators are practitioners that need to make concrete decisions and implement laws and norms in order to maintain order within the country and to promote social and economic development.||Political scientist are scholars and academics who rarely play an active role in a country’s political scenario. Indeed, political scientists have a broad and comprehensive understanding of politics but they tend to remain within the academic world.|
Summary of Politics and Political Science
Political science and politics can be confused as they deal with very similar subjects. Furthermore, the two are strictly intertwined as politics is the basis of political science and, in turn, political theories are used by practitioners.
The term politics refer to the state of affairs of a country and includes all aspects of governance (i.e. legislative process, decision-making process, implementation of laws and norms, etc.).
Conversely, political science is the science of politics and includes several subcategories such as comparative politics, political theory, international relations, etc. Political science studies politics and governance and provides a theoretical background that allows us to understand reality and to anticipate possible or probable outcomes.
Indeed, as reality is constantly evolving and all governments are different, political science and political theories need to be constantly updated and perfected.
Furthermore, political science offers an interpretation of reality and different scholars tend to have different visions and ideas on similar subjects.
For instance, within the context of international relations, we can identify two main lines of thought: realists and idealists. By analysing the same scenarios, the two groups reach opposing conclusions: realists believe that human beings are selfish and egoistic and that countries live in a perpetual state of war and conflict.
Conversely, liberals believe in the possibility of international harmony, supported by the spread of democracy and by the role of international organisations. Same conflicting interpretations can emerge around the analysis of national and local governments. Therefore, there is no unitary political theory that explains governance, just as there is no such thing as two identical governments.
In conclusion, both politics and political science are in constant evolution. As such, providing a unitary definition of the two concepts can be rather complex, as they change and adapt to social, cultural and economic realities. Yet, the main difference between the two lies in their very nature: politics is concerned with the state of affairs of a country whereas political science focuses on the theoretical analysis of politics and governance.