The Concepts of Politics and Governance

Defining Politics

The inclination and interest of people toward anything political is based on the fact that individuals are inherently social. Unlike other species, humans rely on social interactions to survive. Politics is born out of these social interactions.

Heywood (2013) defined politics as an activity that involves the interaction of people, whose relationship is characterized by conflict and cooperation, and who come together to solve such disagreements through binding solutions. However, politics is no utopian solution. There are disagreements that remain as such.

So, what makes social interaction a political one? Any form of social interaction that involves the art of government, public affairs, compromise and consensus, or power and distribution of resources is political. This then gives you the different views on politics, as provided in the following table.

Views on Politics:

Politics as…

Description of Politics

Art of government

Politics concerns the state. It focuses on the personnel and machinery of the government.

Public affairs

Politics is the conduct and management of public interest and therefore, political affairs.

Compromise and consensus

Politics attempts to resolve conflict through discussion, compromise, bargaining, and consensus, wherein people arrive at a binding decision.

Power and the distribution of resources

Politics involves the exercise of authority in the production, distribution, and use of resources. This describes who gets what and under what circumstances.

Given the views on politics above, one may think that politics only involves the state or the government. It must be noted, however, that human beings relate to each other not only in formal structures but also in collective arrangements such as families, religions, peer groups, or cultures. Power is also exercised in these types of relationships, making them political as well. For instance, who decides on specific familial matters is a venue by which authority is manifested. In religious organizations, the existence of authority is manifested as well in the presence of religious leaders vis-à-vis the followers.

What Is a Government?

Political science is a social science discipline that studies the state and the government. The state is a political community that involves four important elements, namely, people, territory, sovereignty, and government. The state, while is considered as something abstract for it has no existence as a material object, enjoys permanence, is not confined to a particular space, and is not embodied in any person or collection of persons (Kukathas 2008).

The government is the instrument of the state through which the will of the people is expressed, carried out, and formulated. Thus, the government serves as the bridge that connects the people to the state. The terms state and government are commonly used interchangeably, but in strict political science terms, they definitely mean two different things.

At present, the terms government and governance are also used with confusion to a large extent. As an institution, it is the government that concretizes the policies and addresses the problems of the state. On the other hand, good governance arises when the government involves the people in its agenda and in the process of policymaking. The extent, therefore, to which democratic participation is encouraged determines whether or not governance exists.

The Study of Politics

So how do political scientists study the political world? How is it like to look from the perspective of political scientists? There are several ways by which politics can be studied. Political science is an exciting discipline because it embraces an array of theoretical perspectives and a variety of analytic frameworks. In his book, Heywood (2013) summed up these major schools of thought in political science.

The philosophical tradition, otherwise known as political philosophy, is regarded as the traditional approach to politics. The Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle are usually associated with this tradition as they asked what “should” or “ought” instead of what “is.” This tradition underscored the analytical study of doctrines that have become the major focus of political thought.

Politics can also be studied through empirical tradition. Political scientists who advocate this approach believe that any account of political reality must be impartial and should thus be tested through observation. Those who work in this tradition therefore seek to analyze and explain, and not to offer recommendations, as in the philosophical tradition.

Mainstream political analysis has also been dominated by the scientific tradition. This tradition promotes objective and quantifiable ways of studying politics. The scientific tradition was further pushed with the rise of behavioralism, or the belief that social theories should arise from observation and quantifiable data.

Recent theoretical approaches contribute in widening the perspective of studying political science. Among these include rational choice theory, new institutionalism, and critical theory, which includes feminism, Marxism, and other post-positivist and postmodernist approaches. Unlike behavioralism, post-positivism is an approach that emphasizes how people conceive or “construct” the political world. Make a research on these recent approaches and be ready to present in class your ideas about their main arguments or premises.