What is Politics?

  • Created by: KDallers-
  • Created on: 03-06-19 00:01

Intro and Negative Conceptions of Politics

Politics is regarded as the 'junction of social sciences' by Peter Burnham - meaning it lacks a particular CORE - no set appraoch

- Politics as the ACTIVITY OF INDIVIDUALS - it is what POWERFUL individuals do; however, this contributes to DISTRUST and CYNICISM with regard to politicians - IPSOS Veracity Index 2017; only 17% trust politicians

- 'EVERYDAY VIEW' - agency-centric, the idea of politics as WHAT POLITICIANS DO - view that politicians CANNOT BE TRUSTED and are cunning and amoral - Machiavelli; this views politics as a DIRTY WORD leading to DECEIT AND HATRED - Adams

Why are politicians not trusted? 1) Loss of deference to politicians; 2) Political scandals and 3) Growing inequality

- 'MARXIST VIEW' - politics as class conflict; there is conflict between different classes, and this seeks to remedy power imbalances - so conflict as a means to 'sort out politics'

- CRITICAL THEORISTS - we need to change the WAY POLITICS IS 'DONE' to include 'othered' groups - like women (feminism), ethnic minorities (postcolonialism) etc.

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Traditions in Political Science

A key theme is that of PHILOSOPHY VS EMPIRICISM - or 'principles vs particulars'

- BEHAVIOURALISM - study politics like we do science; empirically - based on explaining things - as demonstrated by Locke and Hume; this developed into POSITIVISM with Comte - key scholars like David Easton; was supported in the 1960s, but later seen as TOO RESTRICTIVE by the likes of Rawls and Nozick

- RATIONAL CHOICE - uses economic theory and sees politics as a MARKET PLACE of RATIONAL AGENTS that make decisions by applying 'cost-benefit analyses' - uses economic devices like game theory and the Prisoners' Dilemma - view of Anthony Downs, contributing to Gunnell's 'postbehavioural revolution'

- NEOINSTITUTIONALISM - a structural view - this looks at RULES AND PROCEDURES which guide political activity (institutions) - the 'rules of the game' (North) - how do these influence politics formally/informally? CRUCIAL - not all institutions are POLITICAL

- GLOBALISATION - the newest tradition? Colin Hay suggests that politics is now a global activity due to weakening state borders - the nation-state is no longer the key unit of analysis in political science

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Politics as Something People Do

Aristolean view - politics as the 'master science' and a 'noble and virtuous activity' - people engage in politics to achieve the 'good life' - anyone that is NOT a 'perfect being' is political - people can participate in various ways, and spread their views THROUGH GROUP ACTIVITY

- PUBLIC VS PRIVATE DIVIDE - liberal view of Locke - politics only in the PRIVATE so as to prevent government overreach and impingement on the rights of the individual - depoliticising the individual and the private

- HOWEVER - Oakeshott - politics occurs 'in the general arrangements of people' - relates to the outlook of critical theorists like Bryson (feminist) - using 'the personal is political' to pursue women's rights

- Arendt - individuals engage in politics for SELF-DEVELOPMENT - a relatively all-encompassing view of politics, as can be interpreted broadly

ISSUE - defining 'politics' mean some things are always DEPOLITICISED - as DEPOLITICSATION is a POLITICAL PROCESS in itself, this means that DEFINING POLITICS is a political activity in itself - view of Bernard Crick and Aristotle - we are ALL INVOLVED IN POLITICS through conciliation and consensus

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Politics as Conciliation and Consensus

The ACT OF POLITICS can be seen as based on CONFLICT RESOLUTION and reaching an agreeement on debated issues - aka process of compromise, deliberation and consensus; using discourse to reach an agreement on political issues 

- Is this merely a WESTERN PRINCIPLE - according to Bernard Crick and Aristotle, it is ALL POLITICS - Stoker - 'politics is designed to disappoint' - the art of COMPROMISE

- Aristotle - politics is a 'general activity' involving the 'aggregate of interests' - in the view of Bernard Crick, 'politics is politics' - however, this only makes up ONE METHOD OF SOCIAL ORGANISATION - there are various alternatives - in this sense, Crick's approach is AKIN TO DEMOCRACY

- Some people OPPOSE POLITICS - for example, dictators, oligarchs, tyrants and despots - for example, FIDEL CASTRO - anti-democrats

- Is this interpretation Westerncentric? 'Politics' is therefore a method of policy formulation through discussion in Western societies - politics in this sense INVOLVES FREEDOM - naturally, tyrants seek to limit freeom, so abandon politics - do not use it to ALLOCATE SCARCE RESOURCES AS WESTERN DEMOCRACIES DO

- Politics requires and produces ORDER - circulatory - therefore, no need for a 'Leviathan'

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Politics as Power

Bismarckian view - politics as the 'ART OF THE POSSIBLE' - Indira Gandhi; politics as about "acquiring, holding and wielding POWER" - both suggest that politics is a game of acquiring and exerting AS MUCH POWER AS POSSIBLE within social relations

- EXTREMELY BROAD - anything concerning power can be considered POLITICAL (Colin Hay); according to Leftwich, power is at the 'heart of everything'; power can be exercised in all three of its faces - decision-making, agenda-setting and preference-shaping

- Harold Lasswell - politics is "who gets what, when and how" - politics as a WIDE RANGING FIELD - reflects the breadth of power, which is used to BRING ABOUT OUTCOMES - essentially seeking to achieve 'the possible', as Bismarck suggests

- Power - all about control and making decisiosn to shape society - those in power are in charge of the STATE APPARATUS - this links to the Westminster view of success in politics - the GOVERNMENT are said to be 'in power'

- EASTON - politics as about the 'authoritative allocation of values' - can only do this if you wield power - this is essentially what POLITICS BOILS DOWN TO according to thinkers like Bismarck, Gandhi, Colin Hay and Leftwich

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Various dualisms as to what politics is

PROCESS OR ARENA - some see is as an ARENA (or a place where politics happens) - this contributes to the Westminster view of politics, looking at states, governments and basic decision and non-decision making power; however, as a PROCESS - politics as in all walks of life and more to do with social relations in general - Carter - interaction between human + nature

EXCLUSIVE OR LIMITED - do debates have to be limited to FORMAL INSTITUTIONS to be political, or are all FORMAL INSTITUTIONS inherently political? Hill; this is a LIMITED VIEW - challenged by McGrew and Hay - suggesting that GLOBALISATION means politics is no longer confined to governments or nation-states - can have an impact anywhere - EXCLUSIVE 

- Leftwich - politics can be in all aspects of conflict as it is about HOW POWER OPERATES; Crick - has to be within public policy debate

SCIENCE OR INTERPRETATION - behavioural approaches used to be linked to economics and studies of corruption, and this suggested that POLITICS COULD BE STUDIED SCIENTIFICIALLY - Kaufmann - politics as the 'CONTROL OF POWER; however, others sugest that politics requires great INTERPRETATION, and should be studied like a HUMANITY (Weber)

- Look at on an AXIS - not just process, but EXCLUSIVE OR LIMITED PROCESS, for example

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Key thinkers of Political Science

Machiavelli; Adams; Lasswell - the everyday view

Lasswell; Easton; Hay; I.Gandhi; Bismarck; Leftwich - politics as power

Easton - scientific view of politics

Locke - liberal view of politics

Downs; Gunnell - rational choice, 'postbehavioural revolution'

North - 'rules of the game'

Hay; McGrew - globalisation

Aristotle; Crick; Stoker - compromise and consensus

Oakeshott; Bryson - politics can occur in private sphere

Carter - politics as a process

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