Chapter 1 - Approaching The Study of Politics
The Political System
Empirical beliefs - about the way things are ; Normative beliefs - the way things should be
These are deep-seated, unconscious beliefs & influence our views on studying politics & real-world
Political Issue - an issue that involves a decision on the part of a collectivity to act, or not to act, in a
particular manner. Politics is the practice of attempting to influence these collective decisions.
Private/Voluntary Sectors - those parts of society & the economy that function separately from
government, a.k.a the public sector. Public Issue - some gov action can be taken.
Power - the ability of 1 actor to impose its will on another, to get its own way, to do or get what it wants.
Max Weber : the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out
his own will despite resistance.
3 kinds of power:
1) Coercion - the agent (i.e person, group, organization) is able to impose its will on others by
using, or threatening, physical force & other forms of punishments. People obey in this
situation b/c they are fearful of the consequences of disobedience.
2) Authority - power based on legitimacy. The agent can impose its will on another b/c the
subject regards the decision-maker as having the right to make a decision. Kind of power that
we have agreed to be bound by b/c it comes from a respected source.
3) Influence - imposition of one's will on another through persuasion & voluntary compliance -
w/o either accompanying threats or submission to authority.
Government refers to the set of organizations that make, enforce & administer collective, public
decisions for a society. To some extent, we obey the gov b/c of the threat/expectation of penalties if we
don't (coercion). Also obey b/c we accept gov decisions to be binding on us & necessary for the general
3 kinds of gov power:
1) Legislative power: power to create laws/ public policies
2) Executive power: power to enforce laws & administer public pols
3) Judicial power: power to interpret the law
Exercised by diff branches of gov : the legislature/Parliament, the executive or PM & Cabinet & the
Courts. Sometimes 2 or more branches work together in the formulation, passage & implementation of a
Govs don't exist in a vacuum. How gov power is exercised shapes & is at once shaped by, conditions &
pressures in the broader social env. Patterns of inequality in the broader soc env outside of gov often
reproduce themselves as patterns of inequality inside of gov.
Systems Theory - David Easton → Fig 1.1, pg 5.
The core of the "pol system" is a box including the legislature, the executive & the judiciary as well as the
bureaucracy & electoral system. This box is situated within a broader env from which come demands or
inputs that the pol system filters & reacts to by enacting laws & policies (outputs). These laws & policies,
in turn, shape the env & the future inputs on the pol system (feedback effects). This loop of demands-
Page 1 of 4 POL214
outputs-feedback locks the pol system & the env into a dynamic, circular, never-ending process in which
the authorities impose their own priorities, reach to demands, seek out public sentiment etc.
Ex: Demand for more official bilingualism in Canada in the 1960s, in response to which Parliament
passed the Official Languages Act (Pearson & Trudeau).
But the Act spurred feedback in 2 directions: a demand for more official bilingualism at the provincial
level & a backlash on behalf of unilingual public servants who felt discriminated against. Ongoing →
whether S.C judges should be fluently bilingual.
The essence of gov lies not only in making & executing decisions for society, but in having to choose
among competing demands, in trying to resolve conflict, or in making social choices in the midst of social
Politics: an activity in which conflicting interests struggle for advantage/dominance in the making &
execution of public policies.
The act of voting in elections in 1 way in which the indiv Canadians are able to inject their own inputs
into the political process, but there are many other ways as well → letter, fax, email etc.
Today's govs put increasing effort into seeking out the views of the public for a variety of reasons:
1. 1 is that advances in tech, such as polling & communications, make it possible for gov to solicit
2. After a decade or more of a downsizing gov, the authorities were left w/ fewer policy analysis
resources of their own
3. More think tanks & policy advocacy organizations exist than ever before.
Interest Group: an organz that exists to purse the common interests of its members
Advocacy/Pressure Group: an interest group that aims to accomplish its objectives by trying to
influence directly how gov power is used. The National Citizens Coalition (NCC) & Women's LEAF are
exs. LEAF pursues its objectives by providing funding for litigants advancing feminist causes through the
Pol Party: formal orgz that seeks to achieve its objecs through gov by contesting elections & winning
When deep & persistent divisions in society, such as those involving region, ethnicity, language, religion
become politicized, they are often known as cleavages.
Identities: our idents evolve from those characts that are most imp to us as individuals & groups. Not
necessarily automatic, voluntary, individualistic choices. The soc env exercises much influence on the
individual in constructing his/her identity.
Page 2 of 4 POL214
Structural Analysts emphasize the role of soc structures - traditions, customs, practices, institutions -
which largely determine how ind members of a society behave. Identities are socially constructed - we
operate within a powerful set of pre-existing societal norms.
Cultural hegemony is the process through which dominant beliefs & assumptions reinforce existing
patterns of power in a society by taking alternative courses of action off the table.