Power and Politics

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  • Created by: maimuna
  • Created on: 27-12-13 16:55

1) Webers defintion of Power

Webewas one of the first Sociologist to define power.

He said there were 3 types of power; Traditional, Charismatic and coercive.

Traditional – This is the power someone gains because of traditions and customs. For example, a King inherits power purely because he is born into power. Similarly, a teacher naturally has power over a class because he or she is the teacher!

Charismatic – This is when someone gains power because of their personality and charisma. For example many great political leaders are in that position of power because they have a personality which draws obedience from their followers

Coercion – This is the power gained by using fear, abuse and threats. An example of this would be political leaders who imprison or kill any opposition

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2) Lukes’ 3 faces of power

Stephen Lukes said Sociologists should study power as having 3 “faces”.

The first face – The issue method

This is based upon the work of Dahl who said that person who wins and argument, or an issue, has the power. This fits with the Classical Pluraist approach to power.

i.e. a parent wins an argument with their child, so they have the power.

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2) Lukes’ 3 faces of power

The second face – Setting the Agenda

Lukes said you have real power if you can set the agenda. This is because you can decide what will be argued about, therefore dictating the situation.

i.e. The chairman in a meeting has the power as he can decide what is talking about, which means he isn’t at risk of being challenged as he can then just change the topic of discussion.

The third face - Manipulating the view of others

The first two faces of power describe how power can be used to overtly get someone to do what you want them to, even if it against their own will. Conversely, the third face of power described how power can covert manipulate others to do something they might not actually want to do by changing what they want. Lukes, a marxist, said this can create a false consciousness as the working class will be convinced that what the ruling class want is actually what they want too.

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3) Classical Pluralism

The Classical Pluralist views of power are based upon the work of Weber. The basic idea of this view is that because anyone can have power because they can all have their voice heard, so any one can win an argument. Pluralists such as Dahl disagree with Marxists who believe there is a direct link between power and wealth, Pluralists think that everyone has an equal amount of power regardless of social stature, it is merely the person who wins the “issue” that has the power.

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Evaluation of Classical Pluralism

The work of Dahl (1961) and Hewitt (1974) supports this theory

Pressure groups do have an effect, for example Greenpeace have dramatically changed the way we view the environment. As anyone can join a pressure group does this mean we have plurality?

Classical Pluralism measures power by the “Issue Method”, who makes the decisions, however what about if someone gains power without even having to come to a decision or have an argument? (Luke's Second face of power)

Classical Pluralism also fails to consider that people might accept decisions which are against their own will, meaning that whilst it might appear there is plurality, actually one person is clearly exercising power in manipulating the wishes of others (Luke's Third face of power)

Overloading the Government – If we assume Plurality then the government must listen to the views and opinions of everybody, this would lead wasting government time on the less important issues and make government extremely impractical and inefficient.

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4) Elite Pluralism

Over time, sociologists have realised the flaws in Classical Pluralism; even Dahl himself conceded that the unequal distribution of wealth in the US makes equality and plurality in politics impossible. It was as a result of these criticisms that David Marsh (1985) created the theory of elite pluralism.

Elite pluralists agree with classical pluralists that there is “plurality” of power, however this plurality is not “pure” as some people and groups have more power than others. For example,some people have more money than others, so they can pay to have their opinion put across better (i.e. more advertising) than the working class can. This inequality is because society has “elites”; people who have more power, perhaps through money, inheritance or social tradition than others.

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Evaluation of elite pluralism

Elite pluralism provides some answers to criticisms of classical pluralism, especially the main criticism, by acknowledging that the elite often have more power

Is it really ”pluralist” if it says there are elites and inequality

- Similarly to classical pluralism, elite pluralism fails to recognise Lukes third face of power

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5) Elite Theory

Elite theory rejects the plurality that classical and elite pluralism proposes. Instead Elite theory says there is a small group of “power elites” who hold a very large percentage of power in society.

Classical elite theory was the work of Vilfredo Pareto (1848 – 1923), it states than there will always be this inequality of wealth, in every society due to genetic predispositions.

The big difference between classical elite theorist and Marxists is that elite theorists think the domination by power elites is desirable and natural. This is because some people are genetically better than the rest of society, so it is right and just that they rule.

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Evaluation of Classical Elite Theory

+ Evidence from communist countries - Pareto said that even in communism there would still be an elite, this is evident in USSR where Stalin and others had massive power over the citizens who had very little power

- Classical elite theory has been accused of being to simplistic. This is because he says all societies are similar, however, even in the modern world, there is massive difference between different societies, for example North Korea and South Korea, although neighbours, couldn’t be more different.

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Evaluation of Classical Elite Theory

However contemporary elite theory has differing views to that of classical Elite Theory. The main difference being that many modern elite theorist sociologists believe that rule by elites isn’t inevitable in society.

C. Wright Mills said that in American society there are 3 important institutions that create the power elite, the business community, the military and the government. He said that through these institutions and social networks, for example all power elites attending similar private schools, means the power elites share the same common interests, and the power continues to remain in these social circles.

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Criticisms of C. Wright Mills

Critics of Mills’ work say that his research can only be applied to US society as that is where he studied. Also Dahl argues that pressure groups, religious leaders, trade unions etc. provide a counterbalance to the power elite, effectively reducing the power the elites have in society. Marxists also disagree, saying power in society doesn’t come from positions in institutions but instead from owning the means of production.

Another critic of C Wright Mills view that the power elite is set in stone by social networks is Budge. Budge said there is a “fragmented elite”. This is because the power elite is also made up of those who’ve won the lottery, X-Factor winners etc. as well as those C. Wright Mills described. Budge said that there is fragmented elite because of “elite recruitment” whereby normal people can enter into the power elite.

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6) Marxist perspective of power

Karl Marx said there is a limited amount of power in society, which can only be only be held by one person or group at a time.  Marx said these “groups” are the working and ruling classes. Under capitalism the ruling class hold all the power and use it to exploit the working class. This is the cornerstone of Marxism.

Marx believed the structure of society is determined by the nature of its economy, or its “economic base”.  So if the economy is capitalist, the rest of society will act under capitalist values. This is because capitalism dictates the ruling class will own the means of production, meaning they can control their workers, this is why many countries have all the power concentrated in the hands of the ruling class. Ralph Miliband said the political power in society was also held by those who control the economic base.

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Marxist perspective of power

Stephen Lukes’ was a Marxist, and his 3 faces of power help explain how the ruling class maintain control of power in society. However, it is the 3rd face of power which Marxism especially focuses on. Marxists say that the ruling class use their power to socialize the working class into believing something which goes against their will, the ruling class ideology. This is known as a “false consciousness” as the working class don’t realise they have accepted the ruling class ideology as their own, allowing the values and morals of the ruling class to be universally accepted in society, ensuring the ruling class retain power.

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Criticisms of the Marxism

-  Marxism is based upon the idea that the ruling class own the means of production. However, some critics point out that in some societies there has been a separation of ownership and control. This is where the person who owns the business hires a manager, rather than running it themselves. This questions whether the ruling class actually own and control the means of production.

- Another example of how the ruling class might not own and control the means of production is that many large companies are owned by shareholders, many of whom are working-class, so the working class now own some of the means of production, this contradicts the Marxist perspective.

+ However, John Scott argues against these two points, saying that even when ownership of a company is fragmented, one ruling class member can still have dominant control, something which the working class don’t have the money to be able to do.

-  Marxism fails to acknowledge any of the other forms of inequality other than the class divide. For example, Marxism doesn’t talk about women’s, gays of ethnic minorities rights.

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7) Neo-Marxist perspective on power

Neo-Marxism is built upon the Marxist idea that the superstructure of the state determines who has the power. However, the neo-Marxists Gramsci said that the superstructure is divided into two distinct sections, the civil and political societies.

The political society is made up of institutions that rule by force such as the police and the army, whilst the civil society consists of institutions that rule by consent, like the church, trade unions and the mass media. Under Gramsci’s definition, the state branches much further in public life than other perspectives say. For example, by ‘using’ the church or the mass media, the political society can persuade and influence the working class into believing their ideas and morals. Because of this, the superstructure allows hegemony to form, whereby the ideology of the ruling class is completely dominant.

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8) Post-structuralist approaches to power

All the perspectives we have looked at so far say power can be understood by examining the structures in society. For example, Marxists say power can be understood by the type of economic base in a society.

However, Foucault claims power lies outside of these structures. He instead said that power operates in discourses rather than structures. A discourse is how we talk about something. An example of how power could be seen in society is through changes in society such as feminism. At the start of the 20th century women having the vote was a ridiculous idea, however, as more people began to talk about the subject, and opinions started to change, the distribution of power in society shifted from being completely patriarchal, to being much more equally spread.

In summery Foucault doesn’t see power as set to one group or as something that is determined by structures. Instead power can change over time, and it is when a discourse becomes dominant that it is accepted as true so it has the power.

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A strength of this perspective is that it has face validity. Unlike other perspectives, which say that power is rooted in one place, poststructuralism say power can change hands, and this is something we see in our society every day.

Similarly, the rise of “new media” such as Facebook supports Foucault’s view. Facebook allows people to have their voices heard and get people talking about any issue, so anyone can gain power.

However, there are several weaknesses of poststructuralism. One is that there isn’t necessarily plurality in the new media, so not everyone can create a discourse as easily. For example, if Barack Obama, who has almost 12 million followers, made a statement on Twitter, wouldn’t that carry more weight and power than someone with only 50 followers? Therefore not everyone can create a discourse as power is already unfairly distributed.

Another criticism of Foucault’s work is that he fails to give any explanation of why dominant discourses arise; his critics also say the answer to this question is the structures in society, undermining his whole perspective.

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9) Feminist views of power

The feminist view of power is relatively simple; they believe that power in society is unequally, and unjustly, balanced towards men. Feminists say this leads to the discrimination of women, with men using their power to control women’s lives.

Many feminists separate the power men have over women into two “spheres”, the public and the private spheres. Even many feminists would concede that in the public sphere, such as the workplace and politics, the balance of power is becoming more equal. For example, government laws and legislation mean both men and women must be paid equally.

However, feminists argue it is in the private sphere that the greatest inequality lies; government laws and legislation can’t directly affect the family. For example, women normally have the childcare duties, and will often perform the ‘triple-shift’ Feminist Carol Pateman said that this inequality in the private sphere directly stopped women from gaining power in the public sphere.

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Evaluation of feminist theories

Feminist theories have been very useful in contributing to our understanding of power, without feminists raising issues surrounding gender inequalities women might still be as emasculated today as they were 100 years ago.

However, a lot of the theories and points feminists make are seen as too sweeping and vague. For example, not all families are built upon as patriarchal system, and not all women are in charge of child care. This means that the feminist theories can’t be applied to every family, and often they are incorrect.

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10) Views of the State

Weber defined the state as being 3 key things:

  1. The State is created by people
  2. The State can use force legitimately
  3. The State rules over a geographical area, for example the UK

The role and power of the State is highly debated amongst sociologists, with a great variety of opinion surrounding it.

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The Pluralist views of the State

Pluralists see the state as democratic and something that helps distribute power equally. Pluralists say that the fact that there are so many political parties and pressure groups within the state shows plurality and democracy.

Pluralists Dunleavy and O’Leary identified three views of the state, the weathervane, the neutral-state and the broker state model.

The weathervane model says that the State merely reflects public opinion, like a weathervane reflecting the direction of the wind. It therefore represents the opinions and concerns of the public, Westminster is merely a place used to approve the decisions already made by the public.

The neutral-state model says that the State is the referee of public opinion, ensuring everyone has a chance to voice their opinion and then assessing them to make a decision on the basis of what best for the country

The broker-state model says that the State acts as a broker, negotiating with a variety of pressure groups and coming to a compromise between the conflicting views of the pressure groups.

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The Marxists views the State

The basic Marxist view of the State is that it supports the ruling-class. This is achieved in the following ways:

  1. Coercive force – police are used to stop any form of working class revolts, for example riots and demonstrations
  2. The illusion of democracy – The fact that everyone can vote to choose who runs the State creates the illusion that we live in  a fair society, but in fact society and the State benefit the state regardless of who we vote for. This is known as a false consciousness.
  3. Ideology – The State socializes the working-class into believing the ideologies of the ruling-class
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The New Right views of the State

The New Right believe that society acts best when left to natural causes, for this reason they disagree with the interference of the State in society.

They believe that if the market was free from State interference it would run more efficiently and productivity would increase. Similarly, New Right thinkers say the State has interfered in our personal lives too much at it threatens our personal freedom.

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11)Political participation through voting

The UK is a representative democracy. This means people vote to elect someone to make decisions on their behalf, representing their desires and needs, in the UK these people are MPs. If the voters don’t feel they are represented well then they can be voted out at the next election. In this way the public can participate, through direct support and votes for a political party.

However, this form of political participation has decreased over the years. In 2001 only 59.3% of the population voted a massive decline from the 89% of the population who voted in 1950. There are many different reasons for this decline in voting:

Class decomposition – Since the 1970s there has been a large increase in the percentage of white-collar jobs. This has created a largermiddle class, as those who used to be working-class now feel like their job means they are now middle class. Because of this there has been class decomposition. This effects voting behaviour because people used to vote based upon their class, however now there is much less partisan alignment.

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This increase in the class structure of Britain also means that parents are less likely to socialise their child into voting a certain way. In the past a working-class parent would make sure their child voted labour, however now this is much less likely to happen, so people don’t have such a strong allegiance to a party so might not bother to vote.

This class decomposition also affected the political parties. With an increase in size of the middle class Labour started losing a lot of voters. So, under Tony Blair, New Labour moved away from being left-wing to the centre ground. This means that the political parties are much ideologically closer. This means that some voters might not feel there is any point voting because the parties are so similar so it doesn’t matter who is in power.

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Traditional the working class would vote for the Labour Party, a socialist party, who represent the views of their views and ideologies. Conversely the middle-class and upper-class would vote for the Conservatives. Whilst, through the work of sociologists such as Sarvlick and Crewe, we know that this class alignment to a party has decreased, it clearly still exists. For example, to generalise the poorer northern parts of the country are Labour strongholds whilst the richer south are Conservative strongholds. This shows that class still effects voting behaviour.

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Typical women are more likely to vote Conservative than men. This is because they feel the Tories have traditionally placed huge importance on the family, something housewives agree with. However, as the position of women has changed, this might not be as important to them anymore; so this alignment has decreased.

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In general there is a tendency for younger people to vote Labour and older people to vote Conservative. This is probably because younger people are much more comfortable with the idea of change, whereas older people want the status quo kept as it is.

Younger people are less likely to vote overall. In the 2001 election only 39% of the 18-24 age group voted, well below the national average

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In the 2001 elections 80% of ethnic minority voters supported Labour, a statistic which follows the pattern of previous elections. One explanation for this is that many ethnic minorities, in particular African-Caribbeans and Southern-Asians are often working-class, and as we know this tends to lead to support for the Labour Party. Another explanation is that the Labour are often seen as more sympathetic towards ethnic minorities, for example they support more relaxed immigration policies compared to the conservatives. This means that ethnic minorities are more likely to agree with Labour’s policies, and therefore vote for them.

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12) Other forms of political participation

We know that political participation through voting has decreased over the years, with an extremely low voter turnout of 59.3% in the 2001 elections. However, this doesn’t mean that political participation overall has decreased. This is because there are many different alternative forms of political participation, of which many are becoming more popular. One example of an alternative form of political participation is protests and demonstrations, something which has increased in popularity and is becoming more socially acceptable. In 2011 alone we saw many examples of this, for example millions turned out to protest against the raising of tuition fees, and hundreds camped outside St Paul’s cathedral for months. People clearly feel their voices aren’t heard through the traditional political system, so they protest instead.

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There are other forms of political participation too, New Social Movements and pressure groups are people who focus on one particular issue, and then act upon what they think is right. Greenpeace, the Anti-capitalist movement and the Feminist movement are all examples of new social movements. Similarly to protests and demonstrations, New Social Movements and Pressure groups are become more popular. There are many different explanations that could explain why. It could be because they tend to focus on one particular issue, so people think they are better equipped to resolve a problem than political parties who have to focus on many problems.  Another reason is that pressure groups and NSMs tend to be informal, meaning that people can participate without having to be too involved. Finally, pressure groups and NSMs act bound by the laws rules and laws as political parties, so they can use different methods, something which could make them more efficient.

However, not all forms of political participation are increasing in popularity. Political party membership has been steadily decreasing for many years. For example, labour lost 150,000 members in the 6 years between 1997 and 2003.

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