A-Level Politics: How can Politics be Defined?

Post length: 819 words, about 3 and a half minutes.

The following essay was written as part of my AS-Level politics course at Halifax New College (which I’m concerned doesn’t exist any more — I can’t find mention of it on the Calderdale College website any more!).  It dates back to October 2002 and discusses how Politics can be defined.  It’s released here under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales Licence.

How can politics be defined?

Politics has not one meaning, but rather a number of different ones depending on how different perspectives analyse it, however, all different descriptions agree – politics is a social animal, one born out of the interactions between different indeviduals and groups, and how decitions are made.   Politics can be seen to be one of two categorys: conflict resolution or control of power.  The former being that politics is a process of removing conflict to produce harmony, and the latter being the ability to control and direct authority.

Consensus theory holds the view that politics is the art of conflict resolution.  As members of society live together and interact, conflict of interests and values are produced.  It takes politics, then, to ensure that conflict is resolved and harmony is in place to allow people to live together and for the conflicts not to become agrivated.  Politics allows a channel for views to be aired, expressed and discussed, ultimatly leading to a general concensus over what people want and what they beleve to be right.

It is two things which lead to such conflict – people’s values and people’s interests – and these can stem from a number of different aspects, religion and gender being only two.  Everyone has interests which affect themseleves, and so want certain aspects to be improved.  This type of view on how decitions should be taken is mainly based on selfish views, however, some arguments based around interests can benifit others also.  Interests that one science teacher may hold as to how the education system would be best improved could be to invest in better equipment for the sciences, while a member of senior staff may feel that this same money would be better spent on more teaching staff.  While both means of improvement would no doubt help to increace overall educational attainment, they would also help that particular person directly.  In such a situation a decition has to be made one way or another, and it is the necessity of making such choices which leads to conflict.  Values can affect people’s oppinions on things which may not affect them directly.  Self-interest may not play a part in the way someone beleves a decition should be taken, but their views my be developed from what they beleve to be the best course of action.  Equally, the resolution of conflict may be more based on the decition maker’s values rather than than their personal interests.

Another way of seeing politics is the ability to control power.  Sociologists Dowse and Huges argue, ‘politics occurs when there is differentials in power’, that when you get different levels of power, control and authority, you get politics.

It is those who have power who influence the behaviour of those with less power, through different forms of authority.  Max Weber identified three types of authority – Traditional, Charismatic and Rational-Legal.  Traditional authority is built upon traditions and customs  which have been establiched though time, that acceptence of such authority is expected.  Charismatic authority is dependent on the qualities of a leader.  People are drawn to follow such a leader because they believe that they have qualities which will be benificial.  Rational-legal authority requires a set of rules which give those who hold authority power to direct and command others.  This is only created through citizens passing such power on to others on their behalf.

However decition making is enforced, Lukes identified it as having three ‘faces’ – those of decision making, non-decision making, and manipulating desires.  With this final face, Lukes claims that power can be exercised through manipulation, and that people with power can perswade others that what they are offering is what is desired.  The non-decision making face is a secretive one.  Lukes claimed that power is exercised behind closed doors – those who have power also have the power to set the discussion points, and what should not be discussed as well as those which should be discussed.  The public side of power is the decision making face.  Power is exercised when a desision is taken.  This public face, however, deals with decision making – with resolving conflict.

Politics results from human social interaction, and the conflicting ideas which are present in such situations – wherever there are groups of people there is a need for decition making about, or control over, any number of things.  Therefore, in all situations, both the definitions of politics are correct – politics is the art of conflict resolution, as well as the control of power.

Posted on Wednesday 8th July, 2009 at 10:09 pm in School Work.
It was tagged with , , .

Leave a comment