Scholarship and Policy‐Making: Who Speaks Truth to Whom?

Henry R. Nau

in The Oxford Handbook of International Relations

Published in print August 2008 | ISBN: 9780199219322
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:


Scholarship and Policy‐Making: Who Speaks Truth to Whom?

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  • Politics
  • International Relations
  • Political Methodology



The split between scholarship and statesmanship has grown wider since the Second World War. Today it is rare, if not inconceivable, that leading academics incubate in government service, as many post-war scholars did, or that top government officials lead the academy, as Woodrow Wilson did as president of Princeton University. The divorce between scholarship and policy-making has gone too far. This article makes three arguments that the two professions in fact depend upon one another. First, neither profession can make a superior claim to social knowledge. Social knowledge is not primarily objective such that scholars speak truth to power, nor is it primarily intersubjective such that consensus or policy success dictates truth. Rather social knowledge is primarily evolutionary. It is a product of the interaction between the study of policy and the making of policy, which leads over time to social change in directions that scholars discern and dispute. Secondly, while scholars and policy-makers pursue different types of knowledge, both types are necessary to achieve progress, especially when social knowledge is understood as evolutionary. Thirdly, both scholars and policy-makers make political commitments in pursuing their respective tasks.

Keywords: international relations; statesmanship; social knowledge; policymakers; academics

Article.  5614 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; International Relations ; Political Methodology

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