political theory

Positive political theory

Positive political theory or explanatory political theory is the study of politics using formal methods such as set theory, statistical analysis, and game theory. In particular, the individuals/parties/nations involved in a given interaction are modeled as rational agents guided by self-interest; based on this assumption, the interactions can be then predicted using formal methods.

The founder of the field was William H. Riker. In his book The Theory of Political Coalitions (1962), he applied the principles of game theory to the study of politics.


  • W. H. Riker, P. C. Ordeshook (1973). An introduction to positive political theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice-Hall
  • D. Austen-Smith, J.S. Banks (1999). Positive political theory I: collective preference. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press
  • P. T. Spiller (1996). A Positive Political Theory of Regulatory Instruments: Contracts, Administrative Law or Regulatory. Southern California Law Review
  • D. Austen-Smith, J.S. Banks (1998). Social choice theory, game theory, and positive political theory. Annual Review of Political Science (doi:10.1146/annurev.polisci.1.1.259)
  • J. R. Macey (1992). Separated Powers and Positive Political Theory: The Tug of War Over Administrative Agencies. Georgetown Law Journal
  • J. Ferejohn (1995). Law, Legislation, and Positive Political Theory. Modern Political Economy: Old Topics, New Directions.

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