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Chapter 1

POLB50Y3 Chapter Notes - Chapter 1: Class Conflict, Voluntary Sector, Political Psychology

Political Science
Course Code
Christopher Cochrane

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Canadian Politics: Critical Approaches - Chapter 1
The Political System
Political Issue: an issue that involves a decision on the part of a collective to act or not to act, in a
particular manner.
Politics: the practice of attempting to influence collective decisions
o In the context of government: An activity in which conflicting interests struggle for advantage or
dominance in the making and execution of public policies
Private issue: an issue that should be resolved in private or voluntary sectors, those parts of society and
the economy that function separately from the government
Public Issue: an issue that is to be resolved through government action
Power: the ability of one actor to impose its will on another, to get its own way, to do or get what it wants
- Key to the resolution of political issues
- People are powerless when they have no probability of being able to impose their will
Three kinds of power:
o Coercion: The agent (person, group or organization) is able to impose its will on others by
using or threatening, physical force and other forms of punishments
- People obey an agent in this circumstance because they are fearful of the consequences
of disobedience
o Authority: Power based on legitimacy. The agent can impose its will on another because the
subject regards the decision-maker as having a right to make such a decision
- A power that is agreed upon because it comes from a respected source
- Stems from the acceptance of an obligation to obey
o Influence: the imposition of one’s will on another through persuasion and voluntary
compliance- without either accompanying threats or deference to authority
The Government
Government: the set of organizations that make, enforce and administer collective, public decisions for a
Why we obey the government:
- Due to the threat or expectation of penalties if we do not (coercion)
- Because we accept government decisions to be binding on us and necessary for the
general good (authority)
The power of the government:
- Make appointments
- Spend money
- Extract taxes
- Enact regulations
- Generally impose their will on society
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Three Kinds of Government Power:
o Legislative Power: the power to create laws and public policies
o Executive Power: the power to enforce laws and administer policies
o Judicial Power: the power to interpret the law
- These three kinds of powers are usually exercised by different branches of
government: the legislative (Parliament), the executive (Prime Minister and Cabinet)
and courts (respectively)
- The government is shaped by the broader social environment that surrounds it
- Patterns of inequality in the broader social environment outside of government often
reproduce themselves as patterns of inequality inside of government
Systems Theory
- Common way of simplifying the connections between the government and society
Example of this process: Demand for more official bilingualism in Canada in the 1960s
Response: Parliament passed the Official Languages Act
Interest group: organization that exists to pursue the common interest(s) of its members
Advocacy group: interest group that aims to accomplish its objectives by trying to influence directly how
government power is used (also referred to as a pressure group)
Examples: NCC (National Citizens Coalition) and LEAF (Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund)
Political party: formal organization that seeks to achieve its objectives through government by
contesting elections and winning power
o A group through which people are able to influence government
o Has similarities to an advocacy group
o Different from an advocacy group as it attempts to win votes in elections
o If the party forms the government: it can incorporate the demand into its decisions and
government policy
o If the party forms the opposition: it may be able to bring the problem to national attention through
mass media coverage of parliamentary proceedings
Cleavages: deep and persistent divisions in society that have become politicized (ex: involving religion,
ethnicity, language and region)
Identities: the characteristics and experiences that are most important to us as individuals and groups
o Regional, ethnic, linguistic, religious, class, gender and sexual identities
o Not necessarily automatic, voluntary, individualistic choices
o Our identities are thus socially constructed: operating within a set of pre-existing societal norms
Cultural Hegemony: process through which dominant beliefs and assumptions reinforce existing
patterns of power in a society by taking alternative courses of action off the table
Social Movement: informal audience of individuals and interest groups who aim to achieve their
objectives by changing the dominant beliefs of a society
Agenda-setting: hypothesis summarized by Bernard Cohen, arguing the role that the mass media plays in
the beliefs of the public, proposing that as the media prioritize and discusses certain issues while ignoring
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