Teaching Political Science to first-year university students: Challenging ‘taxi-rank analysis’.

  • P Niven
Keywords: Academic literacies, epistemology, disciplinary tribes and territories, teaching and learning regimes, teaching the social sciences


This paper explores the situated nature of the epistemological values of a social science discipline as it finds expression in a particular department. Although it explores Becher and Trowler’s anthropological conception of disciplinary ‘territories’ and ‘tribes’ ([1989]/2001) it finds deeper resonances in Trowler’s more recent notion of ‘teaching and learning regimes’ (2009). It begins to identify some of the regimes that characterise one Political Science department but discovers that these are unstable and diverse, suggesting that, in practice, there are very few unifying ‘tribal’ values or uncontested ‘territorial’ practices at work in this context.
The study offers these observations on the basis of an ethnographic account of one intellectual community doing the work of inducting first-year students into a new discipline. It has a particular focus on lecturers’ perceptions of the resources and capabilities of beginning students, describing some of the lecturers’ frustrations with early students’ literacy practices. These are metaphorically represented by the idea of ‘taxi rank analysis’, that is, many new students’ tendency to emotive opinions based in experiential, local knowledge rather than the more guarded, grounded analyses of academic Political Science. Finally, the study considers some of the implications these descriptions could have for more responsive teaching and learning regimes in the social sciences. Some examples are offered in the departmental narratives recorded in this study.

Keywords: Academic literacies; epistemology; disciplinary tribes and territories; teaching and learning regimes; teaching the social sciences


Journal Identifiers

print ISSN: 0258-2236