Every man or woman uses some approach to look at the events, activities, processes, persons and groups of one’s milieu. On that basis he tries to make his opinion and reach some conclusions. He has some way or view of looking at them. Approach is just like an eye, intellect or mind. A man sees things which are relevant or interesting to him, and leaves the rest unconcerned. Things perceived by a smuggler or a policeman are different from that of a man of religion or a political leader.
In the same way, political observers or analysts also look at the political events and activities from their own perspectives. If someone sees them from the angle of ‘power’ or ‘law’, the other scholar may view them as a particular ‘group’ or ‘ideology’.
As one sees only a part of the totality of an event or has only a partial vision of activities, he or she cannot tell everything about them. For understanding various facets of politics, we have to adopt various ways or approaches of understanding the whole event. David Easton for the development of a general theory of politics has recommended, besides Political Science, learning approaches and theories from other disciplines also.
According to Vernon van Dyke, an approach consists of criteria of selecting problems and relevant data. It provides standards governing the inclusion and exclusion of question and data. It denotes epistemological assumptions on which the search for knowledge is based. An approach determines the way of generalisation, explanation, prediction and prescription – all of which are among the main function of a theory. In this way, it is creator of a theory. When it goes beyond the selection of problems and data about the subject matter under study, it begins to transform into theory.
Merton regards it as ‘an ordering enterprise, focusing on definition, classification, and categorisation’. Haas and Kariel define it as consisting of ‘a paradigm and conceptual scheme that has been worked out for handling aspects of one or more paradigms within a particular mode of analysis’. Young regards it as a new mode of political analysis. It is larger than a paradigm and is more empirical and analytical. In political analysis, an approach operates as a strategy for studying political phenomena.
It is narrower than a theory and broader than a paradigm. A theory is more objective, empirical and scientific, fully based on scientific method and techniques. An approach, on the contrary, is subjective and empirical in a limited way. All its methods are oriented to it. Numerically, in Political Science, there are few theories extending beyond the criteria of selection and the collected data.
It has to be broad, holistic and explanatory. Approach does not go beyond its criteria of selection. As such, it is often descriptive, partial or segmental. A paradigm is a framework of ideas that establishes general context of analysis, combining mixture of philosophical assumptions and criteria of valid knowledge. A theory is a generalised statement summarising the real or supposed actions of a set of variables whether dependent or independent or intervening. It could be micro or macro, abstract, concrete or formal.
But approach is different from and broader than a method and technique. Method is a way of organising, building up or formulating a theory for application to data.
It carries two meanings:
(a) Epistemological assumptions on which the search for knowledge is based, e.g., positivist and rationalist methods, and,
(b) The operations or activities that occur in the acquisition and treatment of data.
Method in the second sense may also be called ‘technique’. Technique links method to the relevant data. It represents various modes or skills of recording empirical information, e.g., sampling, interviewing etc. It is more susceptible to routine or mechanical application and more highly specialized, depending less on imaginative intelligence. Model is also closer to it. A model is a simplified way of describing relationships.
It can be constructed from a paradigm, a theory, a method and a technique. It can be typological, descriptive, formal mechanical, organismic or biological. Strategy is a peculiar way of applying one or any combination of the above type or model to a research problem. It requires that quality and integrity should combine in a strategy. A good strategy fits together with problem, theory, method and techniques in a systematic manner.