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1 - Politics and Power

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Summary

Introduction

This book is an introduction to political science. What is it that political scientists are actually studying? Or, to put it another way: What do we mean when we talk about politics? Politics is about conflict, struggle, decision-making, power and influence. But not every conflict and not every situation in which power is exercised is widely regarded as politics. A football coach who decides to leave a player on the bench because he has given him a bit of lip, is exerting power – and there is conflict here, too. However, few people would consider this a political issue. The same applies to a mother who quarrels with her adolescent daughter about going to a house party, a schoolteacher who gives a student detention, and so on. But if we were to limit our understanding of politics to official decisions that are taken by governments, in parliaments or on municipal councils, we would fail to recognise the political meaning of trade unions, lobbyists, protest groups, corporations and other more-or-less organised groups that influence collective decision-making.

In the first part of this chapter, we will look at two key concepts in political science: politics and power. Although these are key concepts within political science, there are no generally accepted definitions of either term. Political scientists have defined them in various ways, so they have sometimes drawn different conclusions, such as about the distribution of power. Without wanting to take a position in these debates, we consider it useful to offer insights into the ways these two concepts have been defined by political scientists. That helps clarify the concepts themselves as well as their various aspects. In the second part of this chapter, we will give a brief outline of the research conducted on power. How is political and economic power distributed in democratic societies, and what are the different perspectives on this?

What is politics?

Although most people have an image of what politics is, it is not easy to define just what we mean by it. If we look at different definitions of the term, three elements are frequently mentioned: decision-making, conflict and power. Each is discussed here, starting with decision-making.

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Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2017

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