Biology and political science

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The interdisciplinary study of biology and political science is the application of theories and methods from the biology toward the scientific understanding of political behavior. The field is sometimes called biopolitics, a term that will be used in this article as a synonym although it has other, less related meanings. More generally, the field has also been called "politics and the life sciences".[1]


The field can be said to originate with the 1968 manifesto of Albert Somit, Towards a more Biologically Oriented Political Science, which appeared in the Midwest Journal of Political Science.[2][3] The term "biopolitics" was appropriated for this area of study by Thomas Thorton, who used it as the title of his 1970 book.[2]

The Association for Politics and the Life Sciences was formed in 1981 and exists to study the field of biopolitics as a subfield of political science. APLS owns and publishes an academic peer-reviewed journal called Politics and the Life Sciences (PLS). The journal is edited in the United States at the University of Maryland, College Park’s School of Public Policy, in Maryland.[4]

By the late 1990s and since, biopolitics research has expanded rapidly, especially in the areas of evolutionary theory,[5] genetics,[6] and neuroscience.[7]

The historical link between biology and politics on the one hand, and sociological organicism on the other, is inescapable. The essential difference here is that the early modern application of biological ideas to politics revolved around the idea that society was a ‘social organism’, whereas the subject this article describes expressly sets out to separate the essential logic of the association of biology to human social life, from this earlier model. Hence the emphasis upon ‘politics’, denoting the primacy of the individual who engages in social life, as in political behaviour, underpinned by biological foundations. In this sense the rise of Biopolitics represents the replacement of sociological organicism that had been eradicated by the end of the Second World War, with an acceptable form of political organicism. Some discussion bearing on this point may be found in Biology and Politics : Recent Explorations by Albert Somit, 1976, which is a collection of essays, one brief essay by William Mackenzie is Biopolitics : A Minority Viewpoint, in which he talks about the ‘founding father’ of Biopolitics as being Morley Roberts, because of his 1938 book of that name. But Roberts was not using the term in its modern, politically sanitized sense, but in the context of society viewed as a true living being, a social organism. And in a reply to Somit’s Towards a more Biologically Oriented Political Science, published in the same journal, we find Some Questions about a More Biologically Oriented Political Science by Jerone Stephens, which sets out to warn against lurching back into the errors of previous venturers into the realms of biology and politics, as in sociological organicism.


Topics addressed in political science from these perspectives include: public opinion and criminal justice attitudes,[8] political ideology,[9] (e.g. the correlates of biology and political orientation), origins of party systems,[10] voting behavior,[11] and warfare.[12] Debates persist inside the field and out, regarding genetic and biological determinism.[13] Important recent surveys of leading research in biopolitics have been published in the journals Political Psychology and Science.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Blank, Robert H., and Samuel M. Hines. 2001. Biology and Political Science. New York: Routledge; Somit, A., and S. A. Peterson. 1998. "Review article: Biopolitics after three decades - A balance sheet." British Journal of Political Science 28:559-71; Masters, Roger D. 1989. The Nature of Politics. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  2. ^ a b Mary Maxwell (1991). The Sociobiological Imagination. SUNY Press. p. 142. ISBN 978-0-7914-0768-4.
  3. ^ Somit, Albert (1968). "Toward a More Biologically-Oriented Political Science: Ethology and Psychopharmacology". Midwest Journal of Political Science. 12 (4): 550–567. doi:10.2307/2110295. JSTOR 2110295.
  4. ^ "Association for Politics and the Life Sciences".
  5. ^ Sidanius, Jim, and Robert Kurzban. 2003. "Evolutionary Approaches to Political Psychology." In Oxford Handbook of Political Psychology, ed. D. O. Sears, L. Huddie and R. Jervis. New York: Oxford University Press.
  6. ^ Alford, J. R., C. L. Funk, and J. R. Hibbing. 2005. "Are political orientations genetically transmitted?" American Political Science Review 99 (2):153-67; Hatemi, Peter K., Carolyn L. Funk, Hermine Maes, Judy Silberg, Sarah E. Medland, Nicholas Martin, and Lyndon Eaves. 2009. "Genetic Influences on Political Attitudes over the Life Course." Journal of Politics 71 (3):1141-56.
  7. ^ Schreiber, Darren. 2011. "From SCAN to Neuropolitics. In Man is By Nature a Political Animal, edited by P. K. Hatemi and R. McDermott. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  8. ^ Petersen, Michael Bang. 2009. "Public Opinion and Evolved Heuristics: The Role of Category-Based Inference." Journal of Cognition and Culture. 9:367-389
  9. ^ Charney, Evan. 2008. "Genes and Ideologies." Perspectives on Politics 6 (2):299-319; Alford, John R., Carolyn L. Funk, and John R. Hibbing. 2008. "Beyond Liberals and Conservatives to Political Genotypes and Phenotypes." Perspectives on Politics 6 (2):321-8; Hannagan, Rebecca J., and Peter K. Hatemi. 2008. "The Threat of Genes: A Comment on Evan Charney's 'Genes and Ideologies.'"
  10. ^ Byrne, Kevin; O'Malley, Eoin (2012). "Politics with Hidden Bases: Unearthing the Deep Roots of Party Systems" (PDF). British Journal of Politics and International Relations. 14 (4): 613–629. doi:10.1111/j.1467-856X.2011.00478.x.
  11. ^ Fowler, James H. and Christopher T. Dawes. (2008). "Two Genes Predict Voter Turnout." Journal of Politics 70 (3): 579–594.
  12. ^ Thayer, Bradley A. 2004. Darwin and International Relations : On the Evolutionary Origins of War and Ethnic Conflict. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky; Rosen, Stephen Peter. 2005. War and Human Nature. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press; Gat, Azar. 2006. War in Human Civilization. New York: Oxford University Press; Lopez, Anthony C. 2010. "Evolution, Coalitional Psychology, and War". H-Diplo ISSF Roundtable on "Biology and Security"
  13. ^ Bell, D. 2006. "Beware of false prophets: biology, human nature and the future of international relations theory." International Affairs 82(3)
  14. ^ Fowler, J. H., and D. Schreiber. 2008. "Biology, Politics, and the Emerging Science of Human Nature." Science 322 (5903):912-4; Political Psychology, Special Issue on "Neurobiological Approaches to Political Behavior" (Forthcoming).

Further reading[edit]