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About this book

Political Analysis provides an accessible and engaging yet original introduction and distinctive contribution, to the analysis of political structures, institutions, ideas and behaviours, and above all, to the political processes through which they are constantly made and remade. Following an innovative introduction to the main approaches and concepts in political analysis, the text focuses thematically on the key issues which currently concern and divide political analysts, including the boundaries of the political; the question of structure, agency and power; the dynamics of political change; the relative significance of ideas and material factors; and the challenge posed by postmodernism which the author argues the discipline can strengthen itself by addressing without allowing it to become a recipe for paralysis.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Analytical Perspectives, Analytical Controversies

Abstract
While the issues with which this volume is principally concerned have, arguably, always divided political analysts, it is only in recent years that they have started to receive the sustained theoretical reflection their importance warrants. Political analysts have always been able to choose from a wide diversity of analytical strategies and have, as a consequence, been divided by such strategies as much as by anything else. Yet, the systematic reflection on the means by which one might adjudicate between contending analytical perspectives has tended to be something of a marginal concern. Moreover, where attention has been paid to the choice of analytical strategies in political science and international relations (for instance, King, Keohane and Verba 1994), the range of strategies considered has tended to be limited to those considered consistent with the dominant positivist assumptions of the discipline’s core. Accordingly, the appreciation of alternative analytical strategies and, indeed, the appreciation that there may be more than one way to explore the political world is less widespread than it might be. This is changing — and that is no bad thing.
Colin Hay

Chapter 2. What’s ‘Political’ About Political Science?

Abstract
A reflexive revolution seems recently to have engulfed the discourse and discipline of political science on both sides of the Atlantic.1 For the first time in a long time, political scientists and those no longer quite so happy to embrace the ‘science’ designation, debate the very nature of their subject matter and the claims they might legitimately make about it.
Colin Hay

Chapter 3. Beyond Structure versus Agency, Context versus Conduct

Abstract
In Chapter 2 we dealt with what might be regarded as the two most fundamental questions of political analysis — how we define the ‘political’ and how we might adjudicate between contending accounts of what occurs within that domain. In this chapter we descend one rung on the ladder of conceptual abstraction to deal with a scarcely less significant issue — that of structure and agency (or context and conduct). Essentially, what we are concerned with here is the relationship between the political actors we identify (having decided upon our specification of the sphere of the political) and the environment in which they find themselves; in short, with the extent to which political conduct shapes and is shaped by political context. Clearly on such a fundamental issue as this we are likely to find a considerable variety of opinions. Some authors (notably pluralists and elite theorists) place their emphasis upon the capacity of decision-makers to shape the course of events. By contrast, other more structuralist authors (notably many institutionalists and neo-Marxists) emphasise instead the limited autonomy of the state’s personnel and the extent to which they are constrained by the form, function and structure of the state itself.
Colin Hay

Chapter 4. Continuity and Discontinuity in the Analysis of Political Change

Abstract
That political analysts have increasingly turned to the question of structure and agency derives in no small part from concerns about the capacity of existing approaches to deal with complex issues of social and political change. To posit a world in which structuralist analysis will suffice is to assume that political change is effectively confined to relatively marginal modifications of behaviour set within the context of a definitive set of structuring rules or laws which remain essentially static over time. Though such an assumption renders more plausible a conception of political analysis as a social science couched in the image of the natural sciences (as argued in Chapter 2), it is increasingly difficult to reconcile with a world in which the ‘rules of the game’ seem to be in a state of near-constant flux. Though itself hotly disputed, the globalisation thesis would, for instance, suggest that many of the most cherished of political analytical assumptions (of tightly delimited political territories governed by sovereign states, of nation states and national economies as the natural units of political and political economic analysis respectively) are in a process of being transcended (for a flavour of the debate compare Held et al. 1999 with Hirst and Thompson 1999). However sceptical one might (and perhaps should) be about the new globalisation orthodoxy, the point is that were it ever plausible to posit a world in which the rules of the game remained constant over time and were immune from human intervention, it is no longer.
Colin Hay

Chapter 5. Divided by a Common Language? Conceptualising Power

Abstract
That political scientists remain divided by the common language of power is perhaps testimony to the centrality of the concept to political analysis. Indeed, for many, political analysis can be defined quite simply as the analysis of the nature, exercise and distribution of power (Dahl 1963; Duverger 1964/66; Lasswell 1936/50; M. Weber 1919/46; and, for a more recent view, Goodin and Klingemann 1996). For those who adopt such a view the definition of power serves to circumscribe the parameters of political analysis. Given this, it is perhaps unremarkable that the concept of power has attracted quite so much attention, contention and controversy. How is power distributed? Is it repressive or constitutive? Is it best conceptualised in purely structural terms or as a capacity of agents? Or, indeed, is it better conceived as a resource conferred upon actors by the context in which they find themselves? Is the identification of a power relation an analytical or a normative exercise? Is the identification of an inequality of power itself sufficient to imply a normative critique of those identified as possessing ‘power over’? Can power be exercised responsibly? Can the powerful be held to account? Should power be counterposed to freedom and autonomy? Is a liberation from relations of power possible and/or desirable? These and other fundamental questions continue to divide political analysts, as we shall see. They form the subject of this chapter.
Colin Hay

Chapter 6. The Discursive and the Ideational in Contemporary Political Analysis: Beyond Materialism and Idealism

Abstract
It is, in many respects, remarkable that we have got this far without a systematic reflection on the role of ideas in political analysis. For such issues have rarely been far from the surface of previous chapters.
Colin Hay

Chapter 7. The Challenge of Postmodernism

Abstract
Postmodernism is a dangerous term, used in dismissive tones and with increasing abandon by political analysts to refer to work they regard as all too keen to embrace the limits of a science of the political. In this sense it has tended to become a term of exasperation at the work of others rather than a badge of self-identification. Within the political analyst’s lexicon, and like structuralism, functionalism and relativism before it, postmodernism is now principally employed as a term of abuse. Thus while many authors are declared ‘postmodernist’ by their critics, few openly embrace the term themselves. It is then important that if we are to do any kind of justice to the positions which might be labelled ‘postmodernist’ we are extremely careful in specifying what the term implies and what it does not imply.
Colin Hay

Conclusion

Critical—Political—Analytical
Abstract
Postmodernism may appear as something of a black hole which threatens to expunge the very possibility of political analysis and into which all political science and international relations seems inexorably drawn, never to escape. For many, this is reason enough to avoid getting too close. It is, then, important to establish that, whatever physicists may say of black holes, in this case there is light on the other side. In the previous chapters we have travelled a long and, on occasions difficult, path and it is also important that having almost reached our destination we take stock of the journey undertaken. In this brief conclusion, then, my aim is to turn from the challenge of postmodernism to a rather more constructive or reconstructive agenda.
Colin Hay
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