What is legitimate to study? In pursuit of the normative in normative theory




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American Political Science Association



Peer reviewed


When both academic critique and funding criteria essentially say to political theory, ‘what is the point?’, anxiety creeps into the heart of every normative theorist and agonising self-reflection ensues; the study of the political without advisory comment and application may not seem a legitimate use of public finances, where demands to ‘make better use’ of research (in a UK context at least) reveal a common tendency towards impact (Council E. a., 2017). Thus, our response appears urgent: not just for the standing of the subject, but for its very survival, for the continuation of PhD funding relies upon the quality of the reply. The problem is, the replies do not merely conflict, they rest upon fundamentally opposed views of what the subject actually is – effectively, whether or not it should be in pursuit of actual impact. With the premise of an impact agenda therefore set up, in this paper I intend to deliver three objections to a consequential ‘impact theory’, and seek to resolve those objections with an altered methodological approach. I hope this gives us a normative theory that can be seen as ‘legitimate’ in terms of being able to explicitly rise to the challenge of ‘why it should be funded by the taxpayer’, and ‘legitimate’ in the sense that it still retains its philosophical identity; that social prescription does not come at the cost of, what I believe, should be key elements of theorising – conceptual analysis and deep reflection.



legitimacy, normative theory, political theory methods


Stevens, S. (2017) What is legitimate to study? In pursuit of the normative in normative theory. American Political Science Association Annual Conference 2017


Research Institute