Popular culture in (and out of) American political science: A concise critical history, 1858–1950

Nick Dorzweiler*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Historically, American political science has rarely engaged popular culture as a central topic of study, despite the domain’s outsized influence in American community life. This article argues that this marginalization is, in part, the by-product of long-standing disciplinary debates over the inadequate political development of the American public. To develop this argument, the article first surveys the work of early political scientists, such as John Burgess and Woodrow Wilson, to show that their reformist ambitions largely precluded discussion of mundane activities of social life such as popular culture. It then turns to Harold Lasswell, who produced some of the first investigations of popular culture in American political science. Ironically, however, his work – and the work of those who adapted similar ways of speaking about popular culture after him – only reinforced skepticisms concerning the American public. It has thus helped keep the topic on the margins of disciplinary discourse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)138-159
Number of pages22
JournalHistory of the Human Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017


  • Harold Lasswell
  • historico-politics
  • history of political science
  • popular culture
  • reformism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • History and Philosophy of Science

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