HONORS SEMINAR: AMERICAN POLITICS:
The term paper should be a 15-20 page essay on some aspect of the elitist-pluralist
debate and/or the nature of power and/or the structure of power in a specific
social unit. As with all your assignments, please follow this standard
Here is a list of some possible topics. I give them not to say this is
what you should write about but rather to indicate the range and variety
of possibilities. I encourage you to think of your own topic.
- Trace the history of different conceptions of power.
- Contrast Hannah Arendt's conception of power with other conceptions
of power. (One can look at this — stereotypically,
but not unreasonably — as a contrast between "female"
and "male" conceptions of power — "power
to" vs. "power over".)
- Clarence Stone's Regime Politics was a study of Atlanta
that introduced the concept of an "urban regime".
Read Stone's work plus others' subsequent work in that tradition
and use these to describe the nature of Stone's concept.
Think of it as creating a lecture that might be given in a
course like ours.
- Robert Dahl's Who Governs? introduced the concept
of "pluralism", which became political science's
dominant understanding of power. How has that concept
been revised during the 40 years since its introduction?
- How have psychologists understood "power"?
What have been their findings about the psychologies of powerful
- What aspects of h/her psychology makes a person powerful?
- What psychology (or psychopathology) makes a person
pursue power? Contrariwise, what makes a person
fear to pursue power?
- What kinds of psychological characteristics (or psychopathologies)
are created by being powerful? Contrariwise,
what are created by being weak?
- I stopped paying close attention to the community power literature
about fifteen years ago, feeling that elitists and pluralists
had become stalemated. Report on what has been happening
in the literature during these past years. Is anyone
doing any studies any more? Has anyone developed new
methods any more? Have Dahl's findings been replicated,
whether in New Haven or elsewhere?
- There are a number of quantitative algorithms to analyze sociograms
(data about interaction patterns within a group of people).
What are they? What are their relative merits and demerits?
- Power structures of specific social units
- Study the power structure of a specific social unit —
a city, a firm, a fraternity, an academic department, a bridge
club, whatever. It should be small enough so that you
can meet the necessary number of people, it should be accessible
to you, it should have some sort of necessity for power, and
it should be a unit I have no stake in learning about.
You could use any of a number of analytical methods:
formal analysis (legislation, constitution, by-laws), Hunter's
reputational method, Dahl's decisional method, etc.
Note that if you want to interview people, you need to fill
out an application to the university's human subjects committee.
(I will help you.) Here are some aspects and/or types
of power to consider:
- Power as quantity: formal vs. informal power;
coercive power; legitimate power; expert
power; personal power (e.g., charm, charisma); reward
power; information power; moral power
(i.e., the power inherent in having and supporting
inherently good ideas)
- Power as relationship: the power to direct
attention to this or that issue; agenda-setting
power / nondecisionmaking power; the
power of unity within a group of similarly-minded
people; the power of a shared ideology or
- Study a specific decision in a community. Here, for example,
is an editorial about power being used to block the construction
of a homeless shelter in Atlanta: http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/archives/Dec98/0405.html
- There has been a bit of research into the structure of power
in science. Here is one tidbit; see esp. the second
section, "The Power Structure of Science":
Here is another: N. Gilbert (1997). A simulation of
the structure of academic science. Sociological Research
- Archbishop: Inside the Power Structure of the American
Catholic Church by Thomas J. Reese, S.J. discusses —
surprise! — the power structure of the American
Catholic Church. He states in his introduction that
this account "is not an attempt to describe the Spirit
working in the church", but this raises the question
of whether social science is capable of including such a description.
After all, if the workings of the Spirit have some real consequence,
they must be observable to some extent. How do we handle
this (or, more generally, how do we deal with the role of
morality in power)? The text of the book appears at
- Investigate the proposition, "Men constitute a power elite
in U.S. society." This will involve both a theoretical
investigation of what constitutes an elite and an empirical
investigations of the nature of gender relations in our society.
Here are some ideas to go with the specific subfields of political science:
- American government and politics
- Examine the power relationship between presidents and vice-presidents.
What are the varieties of relationships? What are the
underlying power considerations? How have all these
changed over time? [Thanks to William for suggesting
- Public policy
- What are the characteristics of the powerful? (They tend
to be male, older, wealthier, better educated, longer resident
in their community.) Do these characteristics differ
from issue to issue?
- Here is an example of a power study on a specific policy:
Flood Policy on the Chehalis River in Lewis County, Washington:
Who Makes the Decisions? <http://www.crcwater.org/issues11/20001006index.html>
- Comparative politics
- International studies
Here are some random research works that might provide a springboard for your
- Using email patterns to identify corporate power structures <http://www.zdnet.com.au/itmanager/trends/story/0,2000029592,20273141,00.htm>
I obtained much of the above simply by googling "community power structure
research", which brought up several million hits. If you wanted
ideas, you could do the same.
Chilton [email] | Last
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