Approaches to the study of politics

The word politics is an area of great contestation by scholars, academia and even practitioners of politics, arguably there is no universally agreed upon definition of the term politics, in other words different scholars have come up with different definitions when they were defining the word politics. However the word politics cannot be defined by a single definition because it is very complex and thus an attempt will be made to use a number of definitions as well as explaining the five approaches to study of politics. Ball(1987) opines that politics or political activity is simply a means of reconciling differences which may arise from scarcity of resources .

Some scholars like Dahl(1989)defined politics as who gets what ,when and how whilst (Payne & Nassar, 1949)defined politics as the means by which a society organises its affairs . (Schumaker, 2008) defined politics as the exercise of power, authority, the making of collectively decisions, the allocation of scare resources and the practice of deception and manipulation. (Heywood, 2007)is of the opinion that politics is the activity through which people make, preserve and amend the general rules under which they live .

He goes further by viewing politics as the art of government, for him the word politics was derived from polis that means literally city state . Ancient Greek society was divided into independent city state in which each state had its own system of government. In this sense politics can be understood as the affairs of the polis in effect ,’what concerns the polis ‘. This view of politics is evidenced in the day to day use of the term politics . Politics is therefore what takes within a polity , a system of social organization centred upon the machinery of government .

It is also practised in cabinet rooms, legislative chambers and government departments and is engaged in by a limited and specific group of people especially politicians, civil servants and lobbyists, by so doing most people institutions and social activities can be seen as being outside of the of politics that is non-political since they are not engaged in administering the government. Politics as public affairs is another view in which politics moves beyond the narrow realm of government to what is thought of as ‘public life ‘or ‘public affairs ‘.

In politics Aristotle opines that ‘man is by nature a political animal ‘by this he was saying that it is only within a political community that human beings can live the good life ,from this viewpoint then politics is an ethical activity concerned with creating a society and also the institutions of the state ,that is the apparatus of the government ,the court , army , and police can be also considered as public in the sense that they are responsible for the collective organization of the community life and they are funded at the public expense through taxation .

Thirdly politics is also viewed as a compromise and consensus ,from this point of view ,politics is seen as a particular means of settling disputes ,that is by compromise ,conciliation ,negotiation not through force and naked power . This view of politics has been traced back to the writings of Aristotle especially to his belief that what he called ‘polity’ is the ideal system of government ,as it ‘mixed’ in the sense that it combines both aristocratic and democratic features .

In addition to that a failure in understanding politics as a process of compromise and reconciliation may be frustrating and difficult since it involves listening carefully to the opinions ,views and ideas of others Apart from the above mentioned views, politics as power is another view which sees politics at work in all social activities and every corner of human existence.

(Leftwich, 2004)states that politics is at the heart of all collective social activity ,formal and informal ,in human groups ,institutions and societies ‘. In this sense politics takes place at every level of social interaction ,it can be found within families and amongst small groups of friends just as much as amongst nations and the world at large. However there are many approaches to the study of politics and philosophical tradition approach is one of the others in which according to (Heywood, 2007) is dominated by great thinkers like Aristotle and Plato .

Furthermore (Heywood, 2007) points out that this involved a preoccupation with essentiality ethical, normative questions, denoting a concern with what ‘should’, ‘ought ‘or ‘must ‘be brought about rather than with what ‘is’. Plato and Aristotle came up with the traditional approach , in Plato the main idea is to try to describe the nature of ideal society which in his view took the form of a benign dictatorship dominated by a class of philosopher kings .

However this approach has the character of literacy analysis ,in other words it is primarily looking at what great thinkers said ,how they developed or justified their views and the intellectual within which they worked . Additionally this approach was criticised as it cannot be objective in any scientific sense as it deals with normative questions ,this approach also says that great thinkers should rule even if they are dictators and this makes it to be criticized . The second approach is that of behaviourist and post behaviourist, (Jackson & Jackson, 2003) alludes that behaviourists seek to understand how individuals behaviour in a political institution and how informal behaviour leads to policymaking .

In addition to that behaviourists are mainly concerned with empirical theory which is based on observation and experiment rather than the normative theory which value judgements used by major thinkers or traditional political theorists. This approach became under severe attack as it left behind or ignores values ,also by concentrating on methods and statistics, it sometimes end with short and precise answers to trivial questions, it also studies human beings rather than inanimate objects , .

Generally this type of approach cannot predict future events based on the behaviour which happened in the past and given the great number of variables that have to be considered ,it is doubtful that this will ever be achieved to the degree possible in the exact sciences Apart from the above mentioned, the systems approach is another one in which the key idea concerns interrelations between society and politics and the interaction of actors and institutions . According to Easton it is useful view politics as a systems of processes and relationships, the conversions processes and the environment in which they function .

The main idea of this approach is that governments are the centre of the political systems in which three stages are involved . Firstly the governments affects the political systems by forwarding many demands on it and providing support, these demands might be in the form of better education ,health care and lowering of taxes and the support might be patriotism which are inputs ,secondly the political parties form the inputs into wider programs and lastly the lawmakers responses in the form of decisions and law as outputs.

However this approach is often criticized since the model on which it is based does not help discern which parts of a political systems are important and influential ,further to that political systems are not closely interrelated as the model would make it appear nor are they as static as the model implies The structural-functional theory approach is another approach which was designed to make systems theory move open to the possibility of fundamental change as it is eluded by (Jackson & Jackson, 2003).

He maintains that this approach defines tasks of a political system and explains how it should be done to maintain the stability of that system ,once the systems ceases to perform these task , it will not be found . The specified function s of this approach generally includes activities like rule making ,applications and making a formal judgement on a disputed matter . The weakness of this approach is that it does not accommodate itself well to the state as a dynamic entity ,also it assigns to the state, the mechanical of performing tasks ,but individuals who carry out those tasks might have their own interest and priorities .

Some critics argue that this approach places far too much trust in technology, rational procedures and obscures the relationships between structures and functions. In addition to the above explained, political economy is another approach in which , (Jackson & Jackson, 2003)pointed out that this approach is concerned with relationship between government and economics . For him, the way citizens earn a living have an impact in politics ,economics involves disputes over scarce resources ,politics generally involves decisions about who will pay and who will profit from the production .

There is also close interaction between the economy and the government pertaining many important issues like welfare and tax policy. (Jackson & Jackson, 2003) goes further by saying that Neo Marxism is another alternative police economy approach ,this analysis is based on the assumptions originally created by Karl Marx concerning the relationship among economic ,social and political structure ,the state creates and maintains conditions which are conducive to profitable accumulation by concentrating wealth in the hands of few selected individuals . However Marx contradicted himself by saying that capitalism cannot resist attack of workers who will finally became masters of the means of production and exchange in a collectivist society.

Some critics argued that this approach failed to identify all the theoretical structures and processes of the political system and explaining relations among them. Conclusively ,the word politics cannot be defined with a single definition as this is evidenced above with many definitions which were propounded by different scholars . Further to that there is no best approach to the study of politics since each approach had its own loopholes. REFERENCES.