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Description and Measurement

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1 Description and Measurement
Power Description and Measurement

2 Goals of this section You should be able to define political power in a meaningful way that distinguishes from all other social phenomena. You should be able to recognize the different kinds of power that political scientists usually deal with in their studies. You should be able to distinguish between normative and empirical studies of power.

3 Power defined Political power can be defined as:
“The ability of A to make B do what B otherwise would not do”. This is one of the most straightforward definitions of power, and it goes back a long way. In the text, Sodaro links power to the state, a set of political institutions. As we will see, for most political scientists, the study of power is inextricably linked to government, but it need not always be so. Notice that power has some important attributes: (a) Power is relational. What we mean by this is that power only exists to the extent that it relates A to B. Put another way round, if there were only one human being on the planet, there would be no political power. It could not exist. (b) The effects of power are observable; i.e. we can observe the actions of B and we are seeing power in action. However, this begs a big question: Is power itself observable? In the rest of this section we will address this question, but you might want to have a preliminary stab at an answer.

4 Scientific Measures of Power
Since we have made an analogy between political science and the natural sciences in the discussion of the scientific method, maybe we should remind ourselves that scientists routinely measure power in different settings. Some examples might be; Electrical output of turbines? Watts Heat production? Joules (BTU’s) Cars? Horsepower

5 The “Power Perspective”
The operating paradigm of the text: Sodaro has essentially adopted what we call the “Power Perspective” – i.e. the notion that politics is fundamentally about the exercise of power. Following the famous Italian theorist Machiavelli, power is an instrument to be used in pursuit of an end. Power (the instrument) is value-free (neither good nor bad). In this perspective… The only “good” use of power is one that achieves the desired ends; The only “bad” use of power is one that fails to achieve those ends. Note that, while we will operate, for the most part, within this perspective, there are others. Aristotle, for example, thought that politics was not so much about power as about learning who we are, and achieving our highest potential as human beings.

6 Different Forms of Power
In the text, Sodaro makes an important distinction between the following kinds of power; Dominance Influence Coercion Persuasion Authority The Rule of Law Make sure that you understand each one of these, and how they differ from one another. As we shall see, the way in which power is exercised is extremely important to outcomes; for our purposes, we will see that the prospects for creating and maintaining democracy depend upon the use of some kinds of power rather than others. You should be able to guess already which are preferable!

7 “Hard” and “Soft” Power
Just to bring you up to date with a discussion that has made it’s way into the media recently, there has been vigorous debate in policy-making circles about a new way of classifying power. Joseph Nye has proposed a distinction between “hard” and “soft” power Hard power is power that is exercised through coercion and control Soft power is the creation of willingness in B to do A’s bidding We can find the antecedents of this distinction in Machiavelli’s work that we mentioned earlier. Machiavelli’s most famous dictum was: “it is better to be feared than loved”, suggesting that when push comes to shove we need to resort to hard power. He based this notion on the basis that to be loved would mean that one would have to ‘buy’ that love, which eventually would lead to bankruptcy. Actually, he added that, in the best of all worlds, it is best to be feared but not hated, suggesting that there are limits even to the effective use of hard power. This is a subtle but important notion that persists to this day

8 Measuring Power Sodaro notes that power divides societies into elites and masses (before you get concerned, stop to think; is it possible for us all to have exactly the same amount of power? Is it even desirable?). A really interesting question then becomes; who has power in the United States? According to a famous sociologist, C. Wright Mills, the US was dominated by a ‘power elite’. Mills wrote a book in the late 1950’s, The Power Elite, that was inspired by neo-Marxism. Mills suggested that that power elite was the military industrial complex (the phrase was later used by Dwight Eisenhower in his farewell address in 1962). The next slide is a simplified graphic portrayal of his thesis. According to Mills, once one got into the “power elite” (represented by the triangles), one could move at will between the three branches of power; the lower classes (the masses) have almost no chance of ever holding power.

9 Middle classes Military Industry Politics The Power Elite
Upper Classes Lower classes

10 Dahl’s Challenge to Mills
Robert Dahl set out to test this view in Who Governs? (1961). This is covered in the hypothesis-testing section of the text. Like many academics of the time, Dahl recognized that power divides societies into elites and masses, but he was uncomfortable with Mills’ view that was somewhat radical and inspired by neo-Marxism. Dahl thus set out to design a social science “experiment” that would allow him to test Mills’ ideas and decide who actually has power.

11 Dahl’s Measurement of Power
Dahl began with a simple hypothesis: In the city in which he lived (New Haven), the wealthy elite possess more power than any one else. Dahl decided to use, as his “unit of analysis” (the thing that we observe and measure): key decisions on urban planning, public education, and political nominations. This is important; he focused not on people, but on political decisions The method that he chose to use involved so-called “reputational indicators”. What we mean by this is that he tried to measure the reputation of individuals as holding power or not His measurement instrument was a survey.

12 Dahl’s Conclusions Power is not concentrated in the hands of one small group. Why not? Because different elite groups have power on different issues. He did concede that government is still government by elites. But, for Dahl, this represents the original Madisonian ideal of democracy as competition between groups for power. To account for the fact that power seems to be in the hands of competing elites he coined the term “polyarchy” which is today quite widely used.

13 Criticisms of Dahl As mentioned in the text (page 111), Dahl’s work provoked a number of sharp reactions and debates. Think about his work for a moment; what criticisms of it would you have? Do you think that Dahl is right about democracy being essentially a competition for power between elites? (Many people who really like democracy were very comforted by his ideas).

14 Steps to measuring power
What conclusion can we draw from this chapter? There are several steps that we need to take in order to measure power. We need to have a satisfactory answer to the following questions (at the minimum); What is the “unit of analysis”? (Governments? Groups? Individuals?) What are the relational parties? (who is ‘A’ and who is ‘B’?) What is our mode of observation? What is our instrument of measurement?

15 Examples (for discussion)
Think about the following questions. How would we go about measuring any one of these things? These are good topics for online discussion; How much power does Kim Jong-Il have? How much power does the United Nations have? How much power does the Democratic party have? How much power do you have?

16 Problems with the measurement of power
Power is generally best measured from outcomes. But this leads to the dangers of tautological reasoning (witness the CIA assessments of the Soviet Union in the late 1980’s, when the CIA thought that the USSR would continue to exist. Why? Because it had continued to exist!) Power cannot be readily observed. We can observe the effects of power. So, going back to our opening question, unlike natural scientists we don’t really have a unit of power and we can’t really measure it with 100% accuracy. All we can do is to make inferences about power based on our observation about outcomes. This is a very subtle but important point; make sure you understand it fully. Our instruments are often poorly suited for their purpose. Surveys and interviews are often the best we have, but that is not very good.


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