Robert Johns

in The Oxford Handbook of British Politics

Published in print July 2009 | ISBN: 9780199230952
Published online January 2010 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Politics & International Relations


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This article first reports the three key features of (‘early’) behaviouralism, namely its philosophy of social science, commitment to observable behaviour as the dependent variable in political analysis, and the commitment to ‘scientific’ methods. It also addresses the various reasons why, and ways in which, the British experience of behaviouralism is distinctive. The notion of post-behaviouralism, supposedly a new version emerging in response to potent criticisms of the approach, is considered. While the extent of change has been overstated, the post-behaviouralist critique highlights several criteria for evaluating the behaviouralist research. The article then imposes those criteria on to behaviouralism in Britain, and picks out some of its notable contributions to the understanding of British politics. It highlights the possible ways to improve that contribution further. Behaviouralism is a political science, but it is an inexact science, and in practice behaviouralists are always less rigidly positivist, and less grand in ambition, than is often assumed.

Keywords: behaviouralism; behaviouralist; British politics; Britain; behaviour

Article.  10132 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; UK Politics

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