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Thinking Sociologically about Politics

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1 Thinking Sociologically about Politics

2 Aristotle: the human being is ‘a political animal’ (zoon politikon)
Aristotle: the human being is ‘a political animal’ (zoon politikon). He meant that politics is the highest, most elevated form of collective human endeavour BUT: for us today, politics is not a regular human activity or everyday experience: unlike working and shopping. Wright Mills: sociology is about ‘history, biography and society’. He didn’t say ‘history, biography and politics’.

3 The sociological classics and politics
Marx: political journalism and commentary informed by social and economic analysis Weber: ‘political writings’ (usually for newspapers) fill hundreds of pages; politics is ‘the slow boring of hard boards’, and ‘my secret love’ Durkheim: less politically engaged than M and W, but wrote extensively on the state and professional groups in the 1890s; his first book (his Latin dissertation) was about two great political philosophers. Montesquieu and Rousseau, ‘forerunners of sociology’.

4 Montesquieu M said that you could distinguish three types of regime in history: monarchy, republic and despotism. BUT these were not just types of government, they referred to types of social structure too, and were animated by different principles, or attitudes to conduct.

5 Montesquieu republics ( small ancient city states) were animated by ‘virtue’, a commitment to the good of the whole; M thought that this idea of virtue was possible whether or not a republic was a democracy – rule of all – or an aristocracy – rule of a few. For this to be possible the main condition was that there was not too much material inequality. monarchies were exemplified by the larger states of early modern Europe out of which our own grew, and were characterised by the pursuit of honour; this presupposed clear class divisions (compare Rousseau on envy); people couldn’t be expected to be virtuous on behalf of the general good because the society was too large and complicated. despotism was the rule of one person over the whole society, and was based not on virtue or honour but on fear. Both republics and monarchies could degenerate into despotisms. The point here: M sees politics not simply as forms of government that provides a framework for social life, but as rooted in already existing social structure; he is beginning to think about politics sociologically.

6 Barrington Moore Jr., Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy
1960s, Moore tried to explain why in the 1930s some countries ended up with dictatorship and others with democracy. He said that if you look at the previous 4 centuries they all began with a similar starting point, but that they responded differently to one common factor, agricultural revolution. He then said that you can distinguish between the ways in which different relationships between social classes emerged in different countries; briefly, dictatorships emerged in countries where older landed gentry and a dependent peasantry persisted in large numbers, and democracy where there had been a violent ‘bourgeois revolution’ (France, Britain, America). Again, ‘democracy and dictatorship ‘ were not just the names of types of government, but implied something about class structure.

7 The triumph of democracy?
today, 70 years on from the end of World War II and 25 years on from the collapse of communism, it seems that democracy is the only game in town (Fukuyama, The End of History, 1992); or at least that democracy is the dominant ideal; most countries in the world are not dictatorships in the classical sense.

8 The paradoxes of democracy
A common lament today: people are turned off politics, politicians are distant from people. De Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1840s!), said that in a democratic social order (i.e. Where there are no rigid, legally or culturally prescribed social hierarchies (caste or status)) people are more mobile than at any time in history, BUT therefore have to spend most of their time attending to their own affairs, trying to maintain a position in the division of labour. So de T thought that the role of central administration was bound to be enhanced: by the fact that people are not inclined to participate, and by the fact that the expansion of private enterprise requires infrastructure, a legal framework, security and so on that can only be provided by a central authority. So for him markets and states were not antagonists; the growth of one brought with it the increasing power of the other

9 Who makes a good politician?
So politics looks like an optional extra; this leads to the paradox of democracy: everyone is entitled to participate but most are disinclined to do so. Who can afford to make the leap from managing his/her own affairs to caring about the common good/common security/common welfare? An old argument: people whose wealth is in land are better politicians than those whose wealth is in trade A newer argument (e.g. Michael Heseltine): anyone wanting to be a politician even today needs an independent income, because only then can they devote themselves fully and only then are they likely to be uncorruptible. Both are a version of the patrician view of politics.

10 Weber on politics as a vocation and on political parties
there are two types of politician: those who live for politics (old style patricians) and those who live off politics (professional politicians who take a salary). how can one live off politics? Because of the rise of the political party. In the absence of a private income, it was the party, a large organisation relying on membership fees, that paid the salaries of political leaders. The implication: participatory democratic politics requires political parties.

11 History of political parties
Political parties have been around in something like their modern form since the late 18th century; in Britain they grew out of parliamentary factions, groups of members who differed with respect to the role and the religion of the monarch (roughly, Whigs supported the principle of a protestant succession and limited monarchy); the Whigs only formed a party in the 1760s as a reaction to being out of government. Edmund Burke: a political party is "a body of men united for promoting by their joint endeavours the national interest, upon some particular principle in which they are all agreed".

12 Parties as interest organisations
Burke’s definition is interesting because it refers to the national interest, and implies that what divides parties is principles; it doesn’t say that parties draw their members from particular sections of society. by the mid 19th century the idea of the political party included just this idea: not principles alone, but the interests of particular sections of the population who had previously been unrepresented; the most notable examples were the workers parties of Germany, Britain and Russia.

13 The problem of parties this made political leaders effectively the managers of large bureaucratic organisations, whose structures mirrored those of state bureaucracy. Robert Michels, Political Parties: the iron law of oligarchy. Party hierarchies have a tendency to reproduce themselves, so that the integrity of party organisation and party traditions comes to be more important than the principles or the interests that the party originally stood for. Parties have a tendency to stifle the initial energies of those who enter them.

14 Parliament as a testing ground for leaders
Weber believed that there was a counterweight to bureaucracy and to bureaucratised parties; parliament. The party leader may in one sense be a manager, but if parliament is more than a talking shop, it can do two things: It can be an effective legislative assembly, and make laws that serve both the general interest and those of disadvantaged groups in society; It can be a testing ground for leaders to emerge, a way of finding out who is a true political leader and who is not (the British parliament was exemplary here, though Weber had a rose-tinted view of it).

15 The German social democrats were founded as a Marxist party in 1875 and in 1929 had a broadly socialist program, abandoned in Before 1933 they were supported by the urban and non-Catholic sections of the German working-class population; today their class base is broader but the confessional bias is very similar. Meanwhile the catholic centre party attracted support from catholics and middle-class professional and intellectuals, and despite anti-catholic policies of Bismarck, they played a key role in the Weimar period before they were dissolved along with all other non-Nazi parties in After the war the catholic vote went to the newly formed Christian democratic party and their sister party the Christian Social Union in Bavaria. But so did the votes of many non-Catholics, and this is the point: increasingly political parties in the post world war II period started to compete for the centre ground; the ideological differences between them decreased. In 1959 Daniel Bell, at the height of the cold war, published The End of Ideology, suggesting that the great ideological energies of the late nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth had become exhausted. Capitalism and communism, west and east, were more power blocs than representatives of principles.

16 Parties and interests thirty glorious years of growth ( ), increasing prosperity, relatively full employment and job security. This was also an era in which politics was shaped by the representation of interests, interests that were articulated by means of large organisations, political parties, trade unions, employers’ organisations and so on. Some commentators called the 20th century the century of corporatism, because of the way in which politics, and democratic politics, took the form of negotiation and compromise between organised interest groups, with political parties providing the legislative framework in which such compromises might be expressed. 60s and 70s, in the labour governments of and 74-79, trade union leaders, managers and ministers sitting down to ‘beer and sandwiches at number 10’.

17 Consumer culture, media and new forms of politics
Changing logic of party political activity has changed; the use of advertising agencies to run political campaigns has brought party politics into the realm of consumer culture. Hopeless PPBs in the 1950s, by 1960s new communications made political issues could reach a greater range of people. But by the mid 60s that process of communication was becoming a two way one.

18 This still left parties and their social bases, but the social bases were becoming more like one another: the aspirational culture of the postwar decades brought with it increased general prosperity and with it a less confrontational political culture; the problem as far as a lot of sociologists were concerned was mass culture, or mass society, homogeneity rather than class conflict or social division

19 New Social Movements Redirection of political energies away from party programmes to single themes (not single issues because the themes are often very broad) Those single issues had a universal or at least very general character: human relationship with the environment, with animals, the relationship of men and women, relationship of women with their bodies (both pro-and ant-abortion movements), the relationship between advanced industrial societies and A shift from the defence and representation of interests to: basic, fundamental questions the assertion and recognition of identities.

20 examples anti-war/peace movements, nuclear disarmament
ecology/environmentalism civil rights movement in America ‘Solidarity’ in Poland Squatters student movement (which amalgamated many of these)

21 Explanations? Functionalism (e.g. Smelser). Social strain, disaffection, anomie. Decline of Marxism Broadening of participation in labour market (e.g. women’s movement) Generational revolts against war-makers (e.g. Germany 1968) Most accounts of social movements are not explanations of why they have emerged but perspectives from which to study certain aspects of them: e.g. Resource mobilisation ‘theory’, social constructionism.

22 Parties and new social movements
Range of policies Metaphysical scope Core logic Central policy concern Location  Temporal character of action Broad (party programme) Narrow Interest Standard of living National parliament Continuous, indirect Narrow (single theme) Broad Identity Way of living Various extra-parliamentary Fits and starts, direct

23 Institutionalisation of social movement themes
Green parties/green agendas within parties Increased gender equality/gender quotas in parties

24 Revival of social movements in 2000s
Globalisation has given social movements a sort of second wind after the institutionalisations of the 1980s and 1990s. While organised labour had been implicitly international, the international labour organisation was a minor player in the politics of the first postwar decades. By contrast, many of the new social movements operated on a more overtly global scale (peace, ecology, gender relations). Do we say that politics today, in so far as it has to take account of the global dimension, is catching up with these movements? Or that the world after the cold war is one in which global connectedness at the level of the economy is greater than ever, and that this has brought about changes that have been so rapid that global social movements are struggling to keep pace? The global justice movement or the occupy movement or the fair trade movement are prominent examples of contemporary social movements. Have they been a success?

25 Porto Alegre (Brazil) Participatory budgeting through neighbourhood forums, thematic committees, council of participatory budgeting (Porto Alegre) 1990: 1000 people; 2002: Participatory budgeting as one of the UN’s ’40 best practices’. Porto Alegre had a long tradition of local neighbourhood associations dating back to authoritarian regimes of 60s and 70s, and they had clientelistic qualities – trying to influence known people with strong power bases.

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