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Keywords:

  • relevance;
  • impact;
  • engagement;
  • translation;
  • imagination

The ‘tyranny of relevance’ captures a widespread sense of concern among social and political scientists that their academic freedom and professional autonomy is under threat from a changing social context in which scholars are increasingly expected to demonstrate some form of social ‘relevance’, ‘impact’ or ‘engagement’ beyond academe. This article attempts to reframe the current debate by reflecting upon the history of the discipline and different forms of scholarship in order to craft an argument concerning the need for political scientists to rediscover ‘the art of translation’. This, in turn, facilitates a more sophisticated grasp of key concepts, emphasises the need for the discipline to engage with multiple publics in multiple ways, and suggests that engaging with non-academic audiences is likely to improve not simply the discipline's leverage in terms of funding, or scholarship in terms of quality, but also teaching in terms of energy and relevance. The simple argument of this article is not therefore that political science has become irrelevant, but that it has generally failed to promote and communicate the social value and benefit of the discipline in an accessible manner. Resolving this situation is likely to demand a little political imagination.