All concepts of political power can be divided into two groups. Some researchers consider power as a political phenomenon. Therefore, the use of the adjective “political” in conjunction with “power” becomes, in fact, unnecessary. Others place political power among the subcategories of power. The latter is seen as not limited to politics, and not all kinds of power relations are considered political. The paper will discuss the nature of power relations in terms of differences between political and non-political power. It will argue that the power relations are a specific social phenomenon that is not only limited to and definitive of politics.
The first group of researchers distinguishes between two kinds of justification and explanation of political power. Many scholars considered power as the main subject of the political science. The latter is seen as an empirical discipline that studies the formation and distribution of power as a whole in its all existing forms (Lasswell and Kaplan 85). De Vree defined politics as a process in which people try to set or change the configuration or a specific set of behavioral options available for other people (170). Thus, all power relations, wherever they occur, automatically become evidence of a political situation. This view of the political science leads to the identification of power with political power. As a result, the concept of political power is not clearly defined as the power is a political phenomenon in any case.
Another interpretation of the concept of political power has been proposed by Parsons and Arendt. Both authors have introduced the concept to general scheme of the analysis of large social systems, thereby excluding the interpersonal relationships from the areas of power. The latter is seen as an accessory to the large groups of people aimed at the achievement of common objectives (Arendt 63). Thus, the power, by definition, is a political phenomenon. According to the Parsonian theory, power plays a similar role to the one of money in explanation of economic processes (Parsons 257).
It should be noted that researchers do not usually pay much attention to the subtleties of terminology and semantic features of these two terms. They neglect a clear distinction between power and political power, regarding these terms simply as synonyms. For example, Domhoff opened his article, devoted to the structure of power in American society, by citing Wrong’s definition of power. Further, he gave the notions of “power structure”, “power networks”, and “authority figures” using them in the explanation of political processes and the distribution of political power in American society. He did not apply the very term of “political power”, but his scheme was designed for the analysis of this particular phenomenon at the macrolevel. It is useless for studying power relations at the interpersonal level as well as the distribution of power in other public areas and institutions (e.g. families).
The question is whether “power” and “political power” express the same concept of control. In other words, it remains unclear whether it is appropriate to limit control to the area of politics. In writer’s opinion, it is wrong. Firstly, this is contrary to the traditional and everyday understanding of “power”. The word is used not only to describe political events. One can say that father has power over his son. It is as natural as talking about the power of a king or a president. Indeed, it is not clear why the ability to achieve obedience in respect of a president and people is regarded as power, while a similar family-related phenomenon is not.
Secondly, the notion of “political power” implies that power may exist in some other areas. Otherwise, the word “political” is superfluous. Thirdly, the concepts of “economic power”, “religious authority”, “family power”, etc. are common in the sociological literature. The study of phenomena referred to uncover these approaches is widespread. One cannot simply avoid such terms. Moreover, if “power” is seen as a purely political phenomenon, the above mentioned phrases represent different forms of political power. However, it is hardly advisable to interpret the power relations between teacher and student in political terms as well as to assume that the political processes occur in each and all social interactions. In this case, it will be virtually impossible to define politics as relatively independent area of public life.
However, it is often argued that there are no clear boundaries of politics, and it must be defined so broadly as to include various types of relationships such as family or even love. Arguing in this vein, De Vree stressed that these relations should not be seen as “purely” or “only” political. They are political only in certain aspects. In any case, they have a number of important features being common to such “purely political” events as struggle between states, party agreements, etc. (De Vree 171).
Responding to this argument, one can agree that political area lacks clear boundaries. However, the same can be said of other public areas. This does not yet imply that the politics is involved in all kinds of human interactions and events. Otherwise, there is no point in isolating it as a relatively independent sphere. Although all kinds of power relations and actions may have political consequences, power, nevertheless, should not be regarded as a defining component of politics or, at least, as its sole determining element.
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Finally, a conceptualization of politics through power, as noted earlier, makes the concept of power very broad in its content and, therefore, amorphous. Indeed, its interpretation as a core of politics is not consistent with the dispositional and intentional definitions of power. The political life can not be explained in terms of capacity and limited to the intentional actions alone. To this end, “power” loses its peculiarity and becomes indistinguishable from such terms as “influence”, “control”, or “domination”.
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