Bringing Politics Home

Article excerpt

Why should anyone want to study politics -- least of all British politics? Politics is a widely disparaged activity, and the era we live in is often described as an anti-political age.

Politics is held in such low regard because, when people think of it, they usually think of party politics -- the endless adversarial dog rights and point-scoring in which party politicians love to indulge, and which the media are only too happy to set up.

But although we might frequently want to switch politics off and think about other things, matters are not so simple. In an important sense, we can never disengage from politics, because it will not disengage from us. If we give up trying to influence political decisions, it does not mean that political decisions will no longer be taken, only that they will be taken by others. Politics is inseparable from the societies that human beings have created because it is concerned with fundamental questions of power, order and identity -- who we are, what we get, how we should live.

But even if we recognise that politics in this sense is important, why study British politics? One answer is that lying at the centre of politics are nation states - self-contained, sovereign jurisdictions with their own unique domestic politics and external relations with other states. This way of thinking became deeply ingrained both in national political cultures and in the academic study of politics itself, but it has been challenged in the past 30 years by the discourse of globalisation. In some of its more extreme formulations, this discourse has proclaimed that the nation state is withering away and becoming irrelevant to the way in which societies are organised. Transnational companies and transnational media are creating a world that is not only increasingly interconnected, but also increasingly uniform. Nation states are bastions of reaction, it is argued, vainly trying to control what they can no longer control. The communications explosion through the internet, television and travel has destroyed the old world and, with it, the old politics. …