The Politics of Scandal: Power and Process in Liberal Democracies

The Politics of Scandal: Power and Process in Liberal Democracies

The Politics of Scandal: Power and Process in Liberal Democracies

The Politics of Scandal: Power and Process in Liberal Democracies

Excerpt

The study of scandals, particularly political scandals, is barely in its infancy: as one German sociologist aptly remarked "there hardly exists any research about scandals which itself would not be scandalous." A thorough literature review of the German and English scholarly output, combined with a more limited perusal of the French, points to the dearth of academic interest in the topic. While studies of the history and anatomy of particular political scandals are quite numerous—Watergate in the United States being an excellent example — only rarely does one find comparative work that attempts to understand political scandals in the larger context of social and political structures as well as of human behavior. The very concept of "scandal" seems to lack scholarly acceptance. This is particularly surprising in sociology, which has produced superb analyses of fashion, rumor, humor, gossip, hobos, and a number of other "ordinary" phenomena influencing social life.

Yet the study of political scandals provides a unique opportunity for both macro and micro analysis. Across a broad spectrum of time and place, scandals have toppled governments, challenged established elites, and created controversy with clear lines of partisanship. Few subjects of scholarly pursuit appear to have the explanatory potential of scandals, despite their exclusion from the purview of all the social sciences.

One explanation for this exclusion is that scandals seem frivolous and trivial. The very mention of the term evokes a Molière farce. As the great and powerful make fools of themselves, their idiocy rubs off on contact—and few scholars care to take that risk. Political scandals are short, often intense affairs, which capture the public's attention for brief periods, only to vanish with hardly a trace. And while political scandals may seem momentarily amusing or even important, they appear in the long run to be irrelevant, or at least too . . .

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