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Introduction to Political Economy


Introduction to Political Economy

Student Lecture Notes

Transition: We now move from theory to looking at the nature of the world – that is, the concrete situations – that media simultaneously reflects / refracts / and creates.

The theoretical framework we have established before is now going to allow us to organize our thinking – in a simultaneously systematic and open way – about the dynamics of the world and its relation to media.

In that context, we are looking at two fundamental aspects of the world:

Now, in political economy, we are examining the material condition side of the development of the world.

Here we are looking at the theories and then the ideologies / dominant myths of political economy.

Then we will move from theory to history, specifically, the relationship among great powers in political economy,

starting with the ancient Greeks and going all the way to the current day in the age of the Internet.

At the same time, in addition to material conditions, if you will, of political economy, there are different forms of consciousness –

and this is what we will examine in the two cultural history courses.

We’ll be looking there at all the various ways in which people have tried to make sense of their experience via what Kenneth Burke called their capacity as “symbol-using animals,” above all through their capacity for story-telling.

Once we have examined both the political economy and cultural history, we’ll be in a good position to understand all the various symbolic forms that we encounter today in the global media society.

With this understood, we can now begin our introduction to political economy.

Now when we talk about political economy, it’s very important to remember that all of this can be discussed in terms of the three forms of “global” thought that we discussed in the very beginning of the Theory course.

That is, we have to understand that political economy can – and is – talked about in three different ways:

  • Theory,

  • Ideology and

  • Religion

Here, we will look first at the theories or schools of political economy:

  • Neo-Classical Economics

  • Monetarism

  • Keynesianism and

  • Long-Wave

Then, we will look at the ideologies or dominant myths of political economy:

  • Marxism

  • Liberalism and

  • Nationalism

Once we’ve done that, we’ll then be in a position to look at the history of political economy, focusing on the Great Powers from the ancient Greeks to the present.

So what then do we mean when we talk about political economy ???

As EH Carr would say, we are talking about two things that are similar – but not identical.

When talking about political economy we are talking about two things that are very different but must always be examined together.

Politics and economics are intrinsically and inextricably linked and cannot study one without studying the other.

So what do we mean by these two terms ???

Economics is actually the easier of the two to define.

Economics can be defined as the system that every society has for organizing the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services.

Politics is the system that every society has for organizing people’s relationships with one another everywhere – from the individual level to the two-person relationship level to the family to the workplace to the city to the state / province / to the nation-state / to the continent, like Asia / to the entire world.

In every society, there is always – simultaneously – a political aspect and an economic aspect.

There is always a structural connection between the economic and political systems.

In good “theory as question” fashion, we don’t know WHAT that connection is going to be,

so we’re always trying to understand the precise relationship of the economic and political aspects in each individual concrete situation.

Now let’s go back for a moment to Levi-Strauss, who, you’ll remember, argues that people live in groups, and it is those groups that define identity even for those within that group.

In this general framework, politics can be seen as the interaction of interests on the one hand, and emotion on the other, and we should never forget the emotional aspect.

More specifically, there are, broadly speaking, three fundamental aspects of politics:
  1. Power

  2. Problem-solving and

  3. Legitimacy

Politics is always about the simultaneous interaction of these three basic aspects.

We start by observing that there are four forms of power:
  • Power as Domination

  • Power as Coercion

  • Power as Manipulation

  • Creative Power

1. Power as Domination – individual or groups are able to impose their will on other individuals or groups through with the use, or the threat of the use, of force … at the macro level, we see military / police power

2. Power as Coercion – the imposing of someone’s will not with the threat or use of force, but rather through the limiting, or threat to limit, the access of an individual or group to that which they need to survive economically

3. Power as Manipulation – this is the power of television, of the Internet, of all media … it is getting people to do what you want them to do by getting them to want to do what you want them to do … after all, no one is forcing or coercing anyone to watch tv or surf the internet for 10 hours a day … ;-) … and last but not least,
4. Creative Power – this is the power a teacher or artist or coach or therapist has in the ability to take potential {intellectual, aesthetic, athletic or emotional in nature} and turn that potential into something real.

So those are the four different forms of power.

What about the other two main elements of politics – problem-solving and legitimacy ???

Problem solving is one of the main ways we evaluate those who are in charge of the situation, whatever that situation may be.

That is, to what extent can they handle – or SEEM to handle – the dilemmas or challenges that any group inevitably confronts.

So while problem-solving is fairly simple conceptually, it’s extremely important in politics and quite complicated in action.

Legitimacy introduces the normative aspect of things.

It refers to question of right and wrong … but not in a simple way.

This is because, in politics, questions of right and wrong / good and bad / morality are not absolute.

Rather, issues of right and wrong / good and bad have to be defined in relation to the identity of the group or society involved.

Legitimacy can thus best be understood as having to be defined in relation to the nature of group identity.

In this sense, legitimacy – the normative element of politics –has to be understood as an appropriate relationship among three things:

  • Values

  • Ends and

  • Means

So what then are Values?

Basically, values can be understood as “who we are” .

Ends, in that context, are “what we want” – especially in relation to how we define “who we are,” namely Values.

And, in the framework of Values and Ends, Means are “how we intend to get or do” the things we want – Ends – in accordance with our understanding of who we are – Values.

Here, of course, we remember what we talked about in Weber, especially in terms of “instrumental” vs. “substantive” rationality – whether it’s all about just getting what you want vs. getting what you want in line with your own views about who you are …

In conclusion, then, we always have to think about politics and economics as two sides of the same coin … you can’t talk about one without talking about the other … they’re not the same thing, but they’re always connected …

The material in these lectures are for the private use of anyone who downloads them, and are not to be re-distributed without acknowledgement of the source. Any academic or intellectual use of the concepts contained within must be properly acknowledged and footnoted

All contents of this website copyright David Caploe, Ph.D., 1986, 1995, 1997, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2008.

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