Examining Politics and Power Socially


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The aim of this first session is to introduce the general aims of the Unit, and to answer any queries you may have. We will have an initial discussion about what the concerns of the Unit are. In particular, we will be focusing on the connection between politics and society and on the ways in which power, at both the local and the global levels, functions to produce inequalities. In tutorials, the assessment methods will be introduced and explained in detail.

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Examining Politics and Power Socially

  1. 1. Power, Politics & Resistance Week 1: Examining Power & Politics Socially A/Prof Alana Lentin a.lentin@uws.edu.au
  2. 2. What are we dealing with? The State Citizenship Race Sexuality Economics Governance Gender Inequality Nations Social class Exploitation Interdependence Surveillance Globalization Social change Corruption Democracy Protest Punishment Power 1. Ask students to think about what they mean by politics by talking to their neighbour. Call out responses. 2. Reveal themes. How do they fit in with the students’ thoughts?
  3. 3. Howard Zinn’s A People’s History Why read Howard Zinn’s ‘A People’s History of the American Century’ to find out more about the ideas behind political sociology? Watch this excerpt from the graphic version of the book. Note down the main points of what he is saying. After the film: Zinn shows us how world events not only have an effect on how we lead our lives, but also that we in turn can have an effect on the course history follows depending on how we react to what we experience. This leads us to looking at the relationship between society and politics...
  4. 4. ‘Political sociology looks to “the social circumstances of politics, that is, to how politics both is shaped by and shapes other events in societies”.’ Anthony Orum (1983) “Is there a distinctive sociological contribution to the study of politics? If there is, it is perhaps in this attempt to make connections - between constitutional theory and class structure, between social base and political doctrine, between global changes and local politics.” Outhwaite and Martell (1998) It  is  important  to  understand,  that  political  processes  and  institutions  do  not  emerge  in  a  void.  In  other  words,  while  they  do  not  always   take  public  opinion  into  account,  they  nevertheless  reflect  social  structures  and  have  an  impact  upon  them. For  example,  the  class  system  has  an  important  effect  on  the  way  in  which  governmental  institutions  and  state  bodies  have  been   formed.  We  could  not  envisage  labour  rights  or  social  security  services  without  the  history  of  class-­‐based  protest  that  made  it  possible   for  the  reforms  that  enabled  them  to  take  place. Similarly,  events  on  the  global  political  stage  and  the  concomitant  changes  in  the  global  economy  have  a  direct  impact  on  the  way  local   lives  are  led  -­‐  how  we  do  our  shopping,  how  we  travel,  what  jobs  we  can  get  etc.  
  5. 5. Shaping and being shaped by politics Think of an example where a government decision or a world political event had an impact on you? Have your actions ever had an impact on politics? If so, how?
  6. 6. “The chance of a man or a number of men to realise their own will in a communal action even against the resistance of others who are participating in the action.” Max Weber Ultimately political sociology is concerned with how power operates. As Kate Nash points out (reading for Week 2), although Max Weber’s definition seems to imply that power can be exercised in a variety of circumstances - not just political ones - traditionally, political sociology has taken it as a given that the most important site of power is the state. Political sociologists have therefore mainly focused on how states have wielded power over individuals/citizens. However, as Nash also stresses, more recently analyses of power have shifted away from a sole focus on the state for a variety of reasons including - globalization and the lessening importance of the nation-state - a change in traditional class formations due to the changing nature of work (flexibilised, precarious, knowledge society) - a flexibilization and pluralization of values and lifestyles due to the greater acceptance of non-normative identities. Despite these cultural changes which Nash says have led to a focus in political sociology on cultural politics (e.g. the way in which race, gender, sexuality, location, age, ability, work, etc. affect one’s social and political positioning), more classically ‘hard-nosed’ issues continue to exist side-by-side with these more identity-based considerations. Especially in today’s economic climate we might be seeing a return to more Marxian analyses of capital and the effect that the crisis of capitalism has on class relations. There seems to be an ever growing gap between the richest and the poorest in society, both at a domestic and on a global level. These disparities cannot be explained culturally alone. Political sociology today should be focused on how ideology, economics, the state, global capital, and individual social relations play a part in making sense of our political world.
  7. 7. Power & Resistance In this Unit, we will be focusing on how power is exercised in a variety of circumstances, prioritising the effect this has on individuals but also on how individuals - acting together with others - can challenge or overturn their circumstances. As Michel Foucault has noted, power has no one centre. We are both the objects and the subjects of power meaning that we all exercise power in different circumstances. However, we do not all have the possibility to affect political or institutional power. We see power in operation most obviously at the times in which power is being resisted. Here we see individuals without power attempting to become the subjects of power (e.g during revolutions or other social mobilisations think of the events of the Arab Spring) and we also see the state and its institutions exercising its power against that resistance (for example Syrian President Assad’s violent repression of protestors). In this Unit we will be paying a lot of attention to power as a process that produces inequalities but also at the way in which people can resist their exploitation.
  8. 8. Overview 2 6 3 4 7 9-11 5 12-13
  9. 9. Teaching & Learning Lecture - main theoretical overview Reaction and critique Case study (introduced using film, webdocs, blogs, articles, photos...) Bringing theory and practice together (different method each week) Assessment: 1,500 word essay (50%) / continuous analytical reflection (50%)
  10. 10. Week 2: Theories of Power Theory The relationship between the state, capital and citizens Marxist, neo-Marxist versus Weberian approaches Perspectives The Hacking Scandal Methods Mapping power exercise
  11. 11. Week 3: The Shrinking World Theory Globalization, interdependence, decolonial and border thinking Contrasting western approaches to globalization with historicised emphasis on interconnection Perspectives The Big Sell Out Methods Film
  12. 12. Week 4: Neoliberalism, Politics & Society Theory The relationship between the state and capital under neoliberalism Ideology and individualisation Perspectives Post-Hurricane Katrina Methods TV/Newspapers
  13. 13. Week 5: The Disciplinary & Punitive State Theory Foucauldian approaches to discipline, surveillance and punishment The panopticon Perspectives Prison Industrial Complex Methods Film, articles
  14. 14. Week 6: A Clash of Civilizations? Theory The challenge to western liberal ideology in the context of the ‘war on terror’ Critical, post-secular analyses of the relationship between the West and Islam Perspectives The ‘veil debate’ Methods ‘Couscous global’
  15. 15. Week 7: Democracy and its discontents Theory Comparative theories of democracy The functioning of ‘liberal democracy’ Perspectives Freedom of Association Methods Debate
  16. 16. Week 9-11:Citizenship & Inequality I, II, II Theory Theories of citizenship Social exclusion and inequality (overview, migration, gender) Perspectives Classless society, EU migration, intersectionality Methods Articles, film, social media analysis
  17. 17. Week 12-13: Action for Change Theory Social movement theory After ‘alterglobalization’ Contemporary Revolutions Perspectives Refugee activism, the Arab Spring Methods Analysis of activist methods
  18. 18. Resources vUWS for bonus resources, discussion forum, links to readings and links to... Slideshare Enhanced podcasts Explain everything tutorials Nearpod quizzes Deep, continuous assessment
  19. 19. Your Tutors Bettina Roesler, Penrith Sherene Idriss, Bankstown
  20. 20. Bankstown Campus 1.G.67 Tuesdays 12-1 Use vUWS a.lentin@uws.edu.au