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Book Reviews 671 Basic Interests: The Importance of Groups in Politics and Political Science. By Frank R. Baumgartner and Beth L. Leech. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998; pp. xxii + 223. $55.00 cloth; $15.95 paper. A matter of interest for students of political communication is the dialogue between legislators and lobbyists. How does this kind of persuasion take place and to what effect? How do legislators regard the requests of lobbyists and how does money complicate the analysis? Journalists, political scientists, economists, and sociologists all offer different kinds of answers to these questions. This book is an "extended essay" on the state of interest group studies in political science with some reference to other disciplines. It is above all a literature review that seeks to determine how well past studies integrate into a whole that answers meaningful questions about the role of interest groups in American politics. In that sense, the essay is a deliberation on the ability of the interest group literature to practice the scientific method. Concepts about science such as paradigms and studies building upon accumulated knowledge are themes that run throughout the book. In almost every possible way the conclusions are negative, but this is not a book of idle criticism designed only to tear down. Baumgartner and Leech offer sound prescriptions for the future of interest group study and even if the reader does not agree with their advice, the book is still a vital one for those interested in groups, legislator/lobbyist communications, or the science of politics. The most important reason for its vitality is that their examination of the literature is aweinspiring in its depth, diligence, and scope. The authors document the rise and fall of pluralism because it so shaped the study of groups, particularly in the years after its fall. The pluralist study of interest groups defined the questions to examine in a way that occupied a wide range of scholars, most of whom described interest groups as dominant and benign. Pluralism was also descriptive, not sufficiently empirical, and had a class bias. In the end it proved to possess an insufficient theoretical foundation to support a community of scholars' work. In the process, groups went from the cornerstone of politics to little more than a marginal consideration. Since the decline of the pluralist period, interest group studies have been reduced to narrower, more focused analyses of specific groups and issues. The authors point out that there is necessarily freedom in the conduct of academic research. However, what one writer publishes cannot be isolated from others in their area because the subject will be evaluated on its ability to answer significant questions in a coherent way. When the study of groups went into the post-pluralist phase it never acquired even a semblance of a theoretical research agenda from which future study could build. For the past 30 years (somewhat less so recently) so many of the important works have been narrow and defined so specifically for that study that they are beyond criticism. In order to avoid censure, many case studies 672 Rhetoric & Public Affairs explore constricted topics with constricted definitions. In the end, the result is many fine studies about the influence of lobbying and PAC contributions, but because they are so narrow, everyone is talking past each other with different questions and conflicting answers. Communication between authors in the post-pluralist period is low because the studies never built on a foundation of accepted understanding. Baumgartner and Leech describe the failure throughout this volume, in a number of ways they point out that: "the research on interest groups adds up to less than the sum of its parts" (xvi-xvii). Some areas of interest group studies do better than others. Baumgartner and Leech make much of Mancur Olson's Logic of Collective Action and its ability to create a common question to study. Olson described questions that have defined discussion about group maintenance and internal group dynamics. What is missing in other types of interest group studies is this kind of common theoretical outlook that can unite the sub-discipline and allow the communication necessary for progress. Hence, their first prescription for advancement is theoretic coherence...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5238
Print ISSN
1094-8392
Pages
pp. 671-673
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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