Gabriel Almond Essay

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Born in Rock Island, Illinois, American political scientist Gabriel A. Almond (1911–2002) was one of the most influential scholars in comparative politics during the 1950s and 1960s, when he was the first chair of the Social Science Research Council’s Committee on Comparative Politics. His work stood out as a pioneering attempt to achieve a truly comparative framework for the study of politics, one that encompassed non-Western countries and thus broke with the European focus of much prior research in comparative politics.

Almond received his PhD in political science in 1938 from the University of Chicago, where he studied with Charles Merriam and Harold Lasswell, two of the main representatives of what became known as the Chicago School of Political Science. After teaching at Brooklyn College (now part of City University of New York) and working for the U.S. government during World War II (1939–1945), Almond returned to academia and taught at Yale University (1946–1950, 1959–1963), Princeton University (1950–1959), and Stanford University (1963–1976).

Almond’s most important work consisted of a series of publications, starting in the mid-1950s, in which he formulated a structural-functional approach to the study of political development. He saw the political system as comprised of structures, such as political parties, legislatures, and bureaucracies, which performed distinct functions, such as articulating and aggregating the preferences of citizens, making and implementing public policy, and maintaining overall political stability. Drawing on the distinction between structures and functions, he developed a broad typology of varieties of democratic and nondemocratic political systems. This framework was applied by many researchers to developing countries in Latin America and particularly to the countries of Asia and Africa that achieved independence following World War II.

Almond also wrote a pioneering book on political culture. The Civic Culture (1963), coauthored with Sidney Verba, was a path breaking work that demonstrated the potential of comparative studies using survey research. It distinguished three kinds of citizen orientation toward politics: parochial, subject, and participant. It argued that a civic culture, composed of a balanced mixture of individuals from all three orientations, was the most conducive to democracy.

Later in his career, in Crisis, Choice, and Change (1973), Almond sought to develop an integrated theory of political change by combining his structural-functional approach with other approaches that put more emphasis on the role of political leaders, choice, and contingency. The goal of this work, he wrote, was to connect the theory of statics provided by a structural-functional approach to a theory of dynamics.

Almond became a professor emeritus at Stanford in 1976 and continued to write and publish. His later research included works on the intellectual history of, and the ongoing debates within, political science and comparative politics. Almond’s prolific career spanned seven decades, and his achievements were well recognized. Among other things, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1961, served as president of the American Political Science Association in 1965 to 1966, and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1977.

Bibliography:

  1. Almond, Gabriel A. A Discipline Divided: Schools and Sects in Political Science. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage, 1990.
  2. Almond, Gabriel A., and James S. Coleman, eds. The Politics of the Developing Areas. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1960.
  3. Almond, Gabriel A., Scott C. Flanagan, and Robert J. Mundt, eds. Crisis, Choice, and Change: Historical Studies of Political Development. Boston: Little, Brown, 1973.
  4. Almond, Gabriel A., and G. Bingham Powell Jr. Comparative Politics: Systems, Processes, and Policy. Boston: Little, Brown, 1978.
  5. Almond, Gabriel A., and Sidney Verba. The Civic Culture; Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1963.
  6. Munck, Gerardo L., and Richard Snyder. Passion, Craft, and Method in Comparative Politics. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.

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