Politics 3

Interest groups

They are political actors that collectively put pressure on the gov. to seek specific goals. 

Wilson (1990) - interest associations are voluntary membership orgs. that appeal to gov. but do not participate in elections. Emphasises how interest groups do not stand as candidaes for gov. They have a much narrower range of issues than a gov. does.

BUT, functionalist critique - may apply to N. America but in other political systems there is more of a blurring of the lines between interest groups, political parties and social movements. 
Almond (1958) suggests that we should not use formal definitions when studying interest groups and should focus on the function of interest representation - how they articulate themselves in different institutions depends ob the case.

Substantive critique - shouldn't use the same term for groups set up for different purposes. Some may be for the public good, others may be for private profit. 
Berry (1977) proposed distinguishing between publuc and private interest groups. May be difficult - interest groups usually present their actions as for the public good. 

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Theories of interest groups

1. Republican (unitarist) traditions 
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762) argued that interest groups are a threat to democracy. They promote special interests and undermine the general will of the people. Wanted to restrict the power of any bodies that might corrupt relations between the citizens and the state.

2. Liberal (pluralist) traditions
Sees interest associations as an essential source of liberty and democracy.
Alexis de Tocqueville (1835) argued that through forming interest groups, citizens can defend themselves against the despotic influences of the people in power. The state should guarantee citizens' rights to association. 

3. Corporatist theories 
Argues that the body politic is made up of individuals (cells) and groups (organs).
Interest groups cannot be excluded from the political process but differ from pluralists in that they disagree with allowing free competition between interests. Stronger interests with more resources are likely to dominate. State should guarantee a balance of power between opposing groups. 

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Why do interest groups form?

Liberal theory - they emerge freely.

Rational choice perspective 
Olson's 'The Logic of Collective Action' (1965) - individuals will join interest groups when they provide selective incentives, whereas people will be less likely to join groups that are for the public good and only provide general incentives. Makes these groups at risk of 'free riders'.

Critical sociological perspective
Offe and Wiesenthal's 'Two Logics of Collective Action' (1985) - some interest do not require collective action e.g. politicians are dependent on the economy so the actions of individual capitalists can have a direct political impact. But, labour must act collectively to influence policy-making.  

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Other forms of interest politics

Direct lobbying - activities that aim to influence policy-making through personal access to decision-makers. The greater an interest group's resources (money, expertise), the higer its capacity for influencing decision-makers and policy outcomes. The accessibility of institutions and the nature of the issue also influence policy-making. 

Political exchange - a trade of resources between gov.s and business associations or trade unions in exchange for capital, labour and social consent. Interest groups with a high degree of autonomy from the political system and with the ability to threaten econ. growth or social peace have a greater capacity to conclude political exchanges with the gov. 

Contentious politics - when interest associations encourage their members or the public to participate in protests, campaigns and strikes in order to influence decision-makers. The trade union movement particularly sees contentious politics as integral to the power of their organisation. 

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Social movements

A group of people who share a collective identity with a set of common beliefs and goals and engage in collective actions against their shared opponent. They typically engage in non-institutionalised collective action. 

Diani and Bison (2004) argues that the term 'social movement' should only represent a network of multiple individuals with their own independence but engage in co-ordinated actions to achieve their shared goal. No single person can say they represent a whole social movement. 

Social movements do not have direct access to the decision-making arenas in parl. and in the state administration so they need to draw attention to a particular cause by mobilising the public sphere. Two strategies for doing this (can be combined):

1. Protest politics - mobilising around protest events in the public sphere. Wants to increase their legitimacy and public standing and encourage a debate on the issue with the aim of improving public support.

2. Information politics - collecting credible info and deploying it strategically. 

Collective action - type of joint activity which is based around the pursuit of a specific goal.

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Political culture and Huntingdon

Political culture - set of values, norms and beliefs shared by the citizens of a nation towards politics and their political system. 

Huntingdon (1996) made sweeping statements about political culture that were without scientific basis. Talked of the old order vs. new order. Old order had been capitalism vs. communism and had ended with the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Now, there is the new order: west (democracy and human rights) vs. rest (without democracy and human rights). 

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Almond and Verba (1963)

Almond and Verba’s definition (1963): ‘the particular distribution of patterns of orientation towards politica objects among the members of a nation.’ Emphasises how political culture is about the psychological dimension of political systems with all the political beliefs, values and attitudes.

Orientation = knowledge + feelings + evaluation of political system

Put political culture into three categories:

  • Parochial cultures - low orientation towards political objects (focus is on own survival)
  • Subject cultures - low orientation towards systems and outputs (policies) and low towards inputs (political parties and own engagement)
  • Participant cultures - high orientation towards both systems, inputs and outputs.

Found that UK and US had most stable democracies and their political systems most closely represented their culture. Concluded that civic culture was necessary for democracy.

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The ideal culture for democracy

Almond and Verba argued that the ideal democratic culture was one in which citizens were allegiant (engage in elite-mandating activities) and participative.

Dalton and Welzel (2015) emphasise the need for assertive and expressive citizens.  

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