WHAT IS POLITICS? (ABSTRACT)
The definition of politics suggested by the article connects theoretically in a new way “power” and “politics”. This definition is based on the notion of political action, and interprets power, in a specific form, as the purpose or value – end of the political action. As a consequence, the latter is not simply defined as exertion and/or possession of power, but as a search for power. “Politics”, on one hand, as a system of political actions and political relations, in its outcomes (decisions made by an authority or by an actor in a dominant or hegemonic position), fulfils the function of production and distribution of power for a given social field. Finally, the power searched for and produced in politics is labelled as guaranteed power: an economic way of describing a stabilised and generalised capacity to obtain compliance. This “stabilisation” guarantees power with respect to the temporal dimension, making it relatively permanent; the “generalisation” guarantees it with respect to the social field – that is, this guaranteed power may be exerted not only on one or few specific actors, but on any actor belonging to the given social field.
The author applies the theoretical perspective both to the political arenas in which there are governmental institutions, and to those in which there are none. In the latter, the guarantee of power for each single actor with regard to the other actors of the social field depends essentially on the comparative strategic strength of his resources. As a consequence, the political action follows the pattern of a search for and cumulation of resources (e.g. the arms race), which are not consumed immediately, but are used in order to keep or improve the power status of the actor himself. In the arenas characterised by governmental institutions, on the contrary, the guarantee of power for each single actor depends essentially on the political function performed by a variously institutionalised political authority. This authority produces and distributes – by means of its binding decisions – rights or dues: that is guaranteed powers.
This last process requires the differentiation and the structural connection of two sub-types of political action: the action of political actors who are searching for power as authority; and the action of social actors who are searching power as rights. According to this theoretical perspective, a given political institution – in its emergence, and in its effectiveness or capacity to mobilise social resources, to get support and compliance, and to convert all this into binding decisions – is conceived as the partially unintentional outcome of the concatenation, on one hand, of the struggle for authority and, on the other hand, of the contention for rights (that is protection of social activities and social resources).