Political science belongs to the social sciences. Thus, it is a discipline which endeavors to find explanations for societal phenomenons.
As a demarcation from other social sciences like sociology, cultural- and social anthropology, etc., political science restricts its subject of inquiry to “politics”. Yet, the first question arising from this statement, namely, what the term “politics” means, and which societal phenomenons can be understood as being political, is already very hard to answer.
Alongside the “classical” definition of politics, which limits its interest to phenomenons like the state, different forms of government, political parties, laws and processes of decision-making, there is also a “widened “definition of politics. This definition of politics enables a gaze beyond formal institutions and political parties, to examine relations of authority and power as well as mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion.
Thus, to choose a definition of politics is simultaneously a choice about what to examine- which makes the decision itself a political decision, in the widest sense. Is one using a merely descriptive understanding of politics, that only considers rational explanations for its analysis – or might this description itself already be influencing the examined object? One need only think of opinion polls for example, which – although allegedly merely descriptive – can have an impact on the actual results of elections. But what are the consequences of departing from a purely descriptive definition of politics? Is political science merely a science dealing with politics, or is it rather a science that is political ( and isn’t that true for every scientific field?)
This “widened” definition of politics is part of the reason why much political science research is at its core orientated towards interdisciplinarity.
Political science is a scientific education- and not a vocational training for future politicians. Therefore, its object of research, politics, is examined according to a specific procedure, a method. Only a well mastered methodology can provide for comprehensible findings- and that is what is scientific about political science.
In a nutshell: Studying political science is not about being dictated what “politics” are, but rather, how political phenomenons can be influenced or analyzed and how they can be described in a scientific manner. This makes it necessary to develop and encourage critical thinking and to leave not even the seemingly simplest and most banal facts unquestioned. This is also why we take gender-sensitive language seriously, which is especially necessary in german. The german language uses the “generic masculinum” instead of the “generic neutruum” (this is not an actual grammatically correct term, but the point is, in english you would say “students”, for example, whereas in german a lot of people prefer to use the male-form “Studenten”, than to use the gender neutral form “Studierende”) which is supposed to automatically subsume and include women. Our point of view on that issue is that the generic masculinum is not merely an innocent language tradition, but that it mirrors the gender inequalities and male dominance in history and culture that still remains in our societies today. So, the question of gender-sensitive language might serve as an example for how something that is seen as “normal” and unproblematic, is reflected upon critically and hence becomes subject of a political decision.
This ability for critical thinking, that will be encouraged throughout the political science studies, is also likely to be one of the main skills that graduates gain from a political science programme.
One of the main ambitions of the students’ representatives is to further enhance the field of gender studies, which has become one of the most important fields of studies within political science over the last years. Furthermore, we advocate for the establishment of a new professorship for feminist theories at the political science department. In a paradigmatic way, this field of studies shows, how modern political science can conceptualize the phenomenons of exclusion, discrimination and power relations as genuinely political. The use of a widened definition of politics allows, for example, to examine domestic violence as a political and therefore as a societal problem. Likewise, questions concerning discrimination on the grounds of class, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation are continuously picked up and interwoven, to create complex research questions, which can then be analyzed by means of the aforementioned methods. A widened definition of politics can also help to understand, for example, why economic decisions, which are often presented as practical constraints, are usually political decisions too, which are in turn inextricably linked to power relations.
Fields of work
The political science programmes try to enable the convergence of theory and practice through interdisciplinarity and empirical research. The core of the training as a political scientist is the ability to apply the acquired methods and theories to problems in a future work context. To this end, there has been more intense contact and interaction with experts from different work areas in the political science programmes, recently. In addition to the traditional work areas of administration, parties and parliament, international organizations and the media, there are possibilities and options to work in fields like PR and press work in the private sector, in the social or cultural sector, or in NGO’s (Non Governmental Organization), with a political science degree. The latter are the main work fields of political science graduates.
There are two departments offering courses for the political science programmes: The department of political science ( “Institut für Politikwissenschaft- IPW”) located at NIG (“Neues InstitutsGebäude”), Universitätsstraße 7, 2nd floor. The second department is called „Institut für Staatswissenschaft“ and is located at Hohenstaufengasse 9. Both departments are mainly dedicated to research.
Directorate of studies (Studienprogrammleitung- SPL)
The directorate of studies is responsible for issues directly related to the BA/MA degree programmes (for example the curriculum, recognition of courses and exams, etc.). Regina Köpl is currently the head of the directorate of studies (Studienprogrammleitung) at the political science department.