Introduction to Political Science
3 September 2009
Political science is the academic field of study on power and its distribution in the various types of political systems. The study ventures into the sources of power, its exercise, who exercises it and how it is exercised. It deals with the study of politics and governance in an empirical model. It studies the power relations in society and the practise of political behaviour in general. It investigates the acquisition, demonstration and sustainability of political power in society.
Politics concerns itself with power distribution in society, and the distribution of resources. It is the science or art of directing a political unit, or simply the art and science of government. It determines who gets what, when and how within the society; the acquisition of power, its use and the power relations. But then, what is the scope of government?
Politics is a game of power and influence. It manifests itself in situations involving power, society, hierarchy and decision making. The power relation would hold that the person higher level within the hierarchy wields more power than the inferior. Politics, therefore, centres on three main areas:
- The civil government, state and public affairs;
- Human conflicts and conflict resolution;
- The sources and exercise of power.
It is further divided into other fields, or branches. These are mentioned summarily.
This is the scientific study of more than one system of government and/or politics. In the contemporary world, there are varied systems of governments, depending on the geographic location or the cultural or historical orientation of a particular society. The different administrative systems are thus studied by experts in the field in order to draw parallels. The study aims at unravelling why some systems are more efficient than others and that why should there be stable governments in some societies, while others are reeling in political turmoil.
Comparative politics does not only study politics between nations. It also studies administrative systems within a society. For instance, the administrative system in Moi University may be studied vis-à-vis that of the University of Nairobi. It may as well be a study of the administrative system of a department in Moi University and another department within the same institution. The study may also be up to give a comparative analysis between the private sector and the public sector in an effort to find out the missing link in management of the systems in question.
Broadly, comparative politics may examine different country constitutions, policies, administrative structures, et cetera. It may study cases of common phenomena like electoral violence, democratic transition, military/civilian coups, and political assassinations, just to mention a few.
This deals with the interaction mainly between and among states. This interaction may be friendly or antagonistic in nature. Anything cross-border in nature therefore falls within this branch. The field studies international institutions and organisations, and general international organisation. Others are international political economy, foreign policy processes, strategic and security studies and peace research.
Paradigm shift in the study of international relations has also introduced more areas of study. These include global warming, terrorism, piracy, and democratisation among other areas. The study is experiencing paradigm shift, due to globalisation and the ever growing scientific innovation in the field of information, communication and technologies. The world is growing ever small with the advent of globalisation, that some issues that were considered national concerns are now gaining international recognition. Terrorism, for instance, is an emerging international problem that cannot be contained by any one political actor.
The study may take two forms: multidisciplinary or meta-disciplinary. The former involves gathering together the international aspects of history, law, economics, politics and sociology, while meta-disciplinary approach is based on systemic structures and patterns of interaction among people holistically
International relations gained academic acclaim after the World War II. At the time, attention had shifted to possible ways of averting any eventuality of a world war. The catastrophic sale of destruction necessitated scholars and practitioners coming up with possible solutions to interstate conflict, thus establishing the foundation of international relations as a discipline.
International Relations is different from international relations in the sense that the former is a field of study, and thus a proper noun. The latter denotes the totality of interactions within the global system. These interactions include individual activities, government/state activities as well as activities of nongovernmental organisations.
This is simply government in action. It is the process whereby government policies are implemented and feedback relayed. It is manned by bureaucrats as opposed to politicians who form the executive. Some scholars categorise public administration as a fourth arm of government, arguing that it is markedly different from the executive under which it operates. Political science therefore studies different systems of administration analysing the effectiveness of the channels of communication and feedback mechanisms.
The different political systems have different administrative structures. For instance, the administrative structure in a unitary system gives the chief executive much say in the local operations. In a decentralised system, the locals have a major say on local concerns. Public administration also draws a lot from the system of government. A dictatorship would have a closed system where communication is one way, from top- down. In a liberal democracy, there is feedback where the citizens are allowed to critique the system. The policy process thus becomes interactive and consensus is often observed.
This studies political concepts like human rights, justice, power, analysing their applications in different situations. In political theory, investigations are done on why some public policies apply perfectly in some societies while in others the result is horrendous. The field overlaps other fields like philosophy and law in its operation, as it tries to dwell on the best form of governance.
This is a system of laws and regulatory measures enforced by the government and the courses of action or inaction meant for administrative purposes. It is presumed that public policies are made for the wellbeing of society, a case which is not always true. Political science therefore studies the public policy process in order to draw parallels and improve where necessary.
Public policy overlaps with other fields of political science in various ways. For instance, it overlaps with international relations in foreign policy studies, interacts with political thought in studying ethics in politics, interacts with comparative politics in studying comparative public policy, et cetera.
Political behaviour is a field that deals with the interaction between politics and the individuals. Politics involves influence, and so politicians need to study the reaction of the people to their sentiments and policies to earn their favour. The study of political behaviour thus plays a major role during electioneering or policy making.
The field deals with people's political psychology, emotions and attachment to parties. It informs the party policy makers. Within this field likely civil society reactions are studied before a policy is finalised. Opinion polling is resorted to get the feelings of people on particular policy issues.
Concepts in Political Science
This is a modern social organisation that claims monopoly over use of legitimate violence. It enjoys the legitimacy of formulating rules and laws which are compulsorily binding to all under the state's jurisdiction. These laws are often accompanied by sanctions in case of non compliance.
The state has some distinctive characteristics. These are:
Territoriality. This is the physical location of the state. It has sacrosanct borders which demand security clearance before crossing. A country has got full rights over its territory, including waters, ground and air. In terms of security, there are three forces, for non land licked countries. These are the navy, the army and the air force, to ensure the borders are well guarded.
The size of the territory in arbitrary. Russia, for instance measures 6,592,770 square miles, against Vatican City's 0.17 (110 acres). This means Russia is 38,781,000 times bigger than Vatican City!
Territorial integrity has been a bond of contention for many countries across the world. Kenya is among the most recent cases of territorial disputes with Uganda on the Migingo case. Both neighbours claim ownership of the tiny island. Ethiopia and Eritrea have also had fatal clashes on the boundary issue as has morocco and Nigeria.
the major distinctive factor that a state has over any other social organisations. The principle holds that there are no superiors in the international arena. All countries, whether big or small are equal, and that no country can dictate (legally) to any other country on matters of domestic policies. The state thus exercises full control in its domestic affairs without regard to any form of external influence. All international instruments stress this major concern declaring political equality.
A state has a government which runs the affairs of the particular state. State is permanent while governments come and go. Governments may change through coups or elections. In democracies, political parties which win elections form a government for that state. Thus loyalty can be extended to the state and not government. The legitimacy of the government determines the stability of the political system. Somali, for instance, lacks a formidable government, and this explains the political turmoil in the East African country.
Population is another attribute of the state. Just like the size of the territory, population size is immaterial. China currently has a population of 1,330,044,600 (2008 estimates) as compared to Vatican City's 1,000 (2001 estimates).
This may be defined as group of people sharing a common ethnic origin, culture, and historical tradition. They may also share a language, and may be living within a territory or separate geographically. The term may also be said to be a community of people or living in a defined territory under a single government.
A nation is not necessarily a government. It is possible to have a nation in more than one country. The Jewish population in the United States is a nation, same to the Somali population in Eastleigh Nairobi.
This is the agent of state that forms the bureaucracy. It is divided into three arms; the Executive, legislature and the judiciary. Under the executive is found the bureaucracy, or the administration. The executive therefore implements the policies through its bureaucratic structure.
The legislature is responsible for making laws. In some political systems, the legislature comprises two houses, like in the United Kingdom. Kenya has a unicameral legislature.
The judiciary is where redress is sought in case a right has been violated by whichever element of society. In advanced democracies of the world, there is a clear separation of power such that one arm of government acts as a check on the other arm(s).