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conceptual evolution, in its turn, reinforced

the articulation of identity politics by minority

groups who were forcefully incorporated in the

nation, and who increasingly began to challenge

the political organization of the contemporary

nation-state from within.

Historically and geographically, the issues that

have been deemed political always varied enormously.

In western Europe, for over a millennium,

religion was a political issue par excellence. However,

with the rise of secularism in the nineteenth

and twentieth centuries, particularly in western

democracies, religious preferences increasingly

became an essentially private matter, which political

actors endeavored to maintain outside the

boundaries of the political debate. (But the revival

of religious politics at the beginning of the

twenty-first century illustrates clearly that any

such historical trends are always susceptible

to being reversed.) If some issues can become

de-politicized over time, other previously nonpolitical

matters can also enter the political

debate. Some issues have long been recognized as

having political implications without being selfreflectively

acknowledged as a political matter.

Gender is one of them. In most political systems,

political opportunities are influenced by gender

status (typically to the detriment of female participants),

but it is only with the rise of women’s

movements in the nineteenth century and of

feminism in the twentieth century that gender

issues have become legitimate political concerns.

Finally, other issues acquired a political status

simply because of the realization that the requirements

for the survival of a growing human population

in limited spatial settings demanded that

such concerns be formulated in political terms.

The environment is one such aspect; and the rise

of environmental movements and green politics

increasingly contributes to redefining the boundaries

of the political in the twenty-first century.

The boundaries of politics are always and necessarily

highly contested because of the range of

issues that can potentially be considered as political

– from the economy to the environment, and

from morality to sex. Drawing from the genealogy

of the term, it is generally acknowledged that

politics is an activity that concerns the polis, in

other words the public sphere. But even such a

general statement about public affairs is not easy

to sustain systematically The identification of

public goods and the distinction between the

public and the private, in particular, have been

continuously questioned by social groups arguing

for a better (more effective, fairer, and so on)

organization of wealth and power in the community.

These debates and challenges underscore the

politics politics


fact that an element of force is always necessarily

involved in politics. From this perspective, politics

can be conceived in the terms of Harold Lasswell’s

book Politics: Who Gets What, When, How (1936) (or

encapsulated by Vladimir Ilich Lenin’s saying, Kto?

Kogo? [Who? Whom?] – who does what to whom?).

Yet, in so far as politics, as a social activity, is

distinct from the exercising of brute force, it also

consists in the art of resolving public disagreements

and conflicts by engaging collectively in

dialog and bargaining. The boundary between politics

as a means of resolving social conflict, and

politics as a cause of conflict, is a porous one. As

the military strategist Carl von Clausewitz

pointed out in On War (1832), in international

affairs it is often the case that war is the continuation

of politics by other means – even though this

difference of means cannot be underestimated

from a social perspective. Even in domestic settings,

politics, and particularly party politics for

the followers of Marx, involves an element of oppression

of the masses by the ruling classes in the

ongoing struggle between the proletariat and the

bourgeoisie for the control of the means of production

and the institutions of the state. Yet, in

contemporary political systems, as the discourse

on democracy has come to dominate the global

debate on politics, this activity tends to be seen as

more discursive and consensual than might otherwise

be thought.

In the contemporary context, one can distinguish

at least four main levels of political

interaction for analytical purposes: global/transnational,

international, domestic, and local/intimate.

Despite appearances, these categories cannot

be neatly located along a well-defined spectrum as

the two ends often meet – religion, for example

affects politics on a global scale, as well as intervening

in this process at a very intimate level, and

so do economic issues that have both macro- and

micro-political implications. Traditionally, state

politics has been at the heart of people’s understanding

of what politics stood for. State politics

has two main aspects: an internal dimension

(domestic politics), and an external one – international

politics or international relations. In

domestic politics, the ordering of society by the

state is probably the most common yet intense

form of political activities in which individuals

are repeatedly involved, as well as being subjected

to. In this context, politics is simply the way in

which individuals act collectively (usually by

joining political associations) in order to mold

the political community in to the shape that

they see fit. Whether this process is in fact

bottom-up or top-down depends on the type of

political system that is in place at any one time –

for example democratic on autocratic contexts. In

the field of international politics, individuals outside

the ruling circles hardly have any direct involvement

in the decisionmaking process, except

in the form of the proverbial public opinion. International

politics, especially at its war-like end,

can, however, have a massive and direct impact

on all the members of the political community.

Local and even intimate politics, by contrast, represent

the sphere of political activities in which

social interactions are the most common for most

individuals, most of the time. The networks composed

by the family, friends, kin, neighbors, and

other formal or informal proximity associations

constitute a ready-made receptacle for politics,

albeit one with usually limited resources for

action. Finally, the process of globalization of politics

– be it through the activities of transnational

non-state actors (for example Al-Qaeda) or supranational

institutions (such as the International

Monetary Fund) – increasingly has such an impact

on every aspect of life that it is becoming the one

single set of factors that redefines the concept of

politics in the interdependent global system that

is emerging in the twenty-first century.


polyethnic rights

– see rights.

Popper, Karl (1902–1994)

Born in Vienna, Karl Popper attended the University

there, and worked as a cabinet maker and

primary school teacher. He received his PhD in

1928. From 1937 to 1945 he taught at Canterbury

University College, New Zealand, and from 1945 to

1969 at the London School of Economics.

Popper is best known as a philosopher of science

and defender of open societies. In books such as

The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959), Popper contends

that the study of nature and society share

similar logics. Yet social scientists and philosophers

often misinterpret the logic of natural science

while attempting to imitate it, creating

pseudo-scientific theories that cannot be refuted.

Popper counters such claims with his theory of

critical rationalism. In Popper’s view, scientific

theories must be falsifiable. Any theory can find

evidence to support it. Only those theories that

can stand the rigors of empirical testing and

attempted refutation can claim to be scientific.

Popper devoted The Open Society and Its Enemies

(1945) and The Poverty of Historicism (1944) to the

politics Popper, Karl (1902–1994)


analysis of theorists such as Plato and Karl Marx,

who assert their discoveries of universal truths.

Popper criticizes such theories as unscientific

and anti-democratic. They do not promote open

discussion, tolerance of opposing views, or a pragmatic

and piecemeal approach to social change,

the ingredients of a good society. For Popper, the

growth of knowledge is tied to a community of

scientists who freely and rationally criticize one

another’s viewpoints. Institutions guaranteeing

such debate and dialog are crucial for the advancement

of science and an open, democratic society.


popular culture

The early waves of studying popular culture

emerged out of Great Britain during the 1950s

and 1960s. Figures such as the literary and cultural

critics Raymond Williams and Richard

Hoggart and the historian E. P. Thompson (1924–

93) sought to discover within the study of popular

culture the political contestation of values and

ways of life. If high culture was enjoyed by the

few, then most popular culture, it seemed, reproduced

the dominant orientations of a capitalistdominated

marketplace. However, historically the

working class and the Romantic movement had

sought to produce alternative forms of popular art

and culture that had sought to criticize the status

quo. These arguments led many in sociology, cultural

studies, and history to investigate how the

people had been actively involved in making their

own culture (or cultures) from below. Such views

were at this time contrasted with the ideas of the

early Frankfurt School, that tended to reduce the

study of popular culture to that of mass culture.

Whereas mass culture captured the way in which

the production of culture was centrally organized

in terms of the needs of a culture industry (rise

of mass audiences for television, press, and consumer

goods), a genuinely popular culture was

made by and for ordinary people.

From the 1970s onward, the work of Italian

Marxist Antonio Gramsci and his conception of

hegemony were to influence these debates deeply.

The idea here was that popular culture was constituted

by a set of institutions, practices, and

forms that aimed to win the consent of the people.

This was more than a simple act of dominant

groups establishing their domination, but always

required the active incorporation of subordinate

groups and cultures. This approach became

strongly connected with a number of writers

who associated with the Birmingham Centre for

Contemporary Cultural studies (including Stuart

Hall, Angela McRobbie, and Paul Willis). The study

of youth cultures, popular magazines, sport, and

the media then were undertaken to reveal processes

of containment and resistance in respect

of the dominant culture. In particular this tradition

has placed intellectual emphasis upon the

various and contested meanings of popular culture

and its role in disrupting or securing relations

of domination. There are three main

criticisms of these arguments: the emphasis on

meaning leads to a relative neglect of changing

institutional features which organize the production

and distribution of popular culture; the critical

role which the avant-garde or more elite

forms of high culture have played in creating

critical consciousness historically tends to disappear

from the analysis; and little of the actual

theorizing about cultural resistance pays much

attention to the need to formulate more adequate

social and political environments that would

seek a more just settlement between competing


Since the early 1990s many have become aware

of the need to promote more global understandings

of the operation of popular culture. The

new mode of popular cultural studies has sought

to understand its formation both within and in

opposition to cultural nationalism. This has further

broken with the idea of homogeneous national

cultures in order to investigate the ways

in which, in an increasingly global culture, different

groups have been able to maintain interconnections

with one another. In particular the

development of transnational forms of mobility

in respect of tourism and the media, as well as

the development of counter-publics on the basis

of race and gender, have pushed the analysis of

popular culture beyond the nation-state.

Paul Gilroy, in There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack

(1987), argued that black popular music has been

the key cultural location for the articulation of a

sense of diasporic connection between Africa,

America, and Britain. This has operated in a

number of ways, including the borrowing of musical

styles and influences, protesting about injustice,

the recording of struggles, and in certain rap

songs the display of misogyny. Through the

fostering of a distinctively black aesthetic, Gilroy

argues that music has provided a uniquely connective

culture in a globalized civil society. Such

features have not only proved to be important in

the study of the complexity of popular forms but

have also warned against many postmodern arguments

which simply assumed that distinctions

between high and popular culture had evaporated.

popular culture popular culture


However, many remain critical of these and similar

studies for neglecting to analyze the continued

power of the nation-state and popular discourses

of nationhood that continue to exert a considerable

amount of influence over the organization

and meaning of popular culture.

Further, many are now less concerned with the

meanings of particular popular texts and more

with how a diversity of audience members actively

constitutes the popular. John Fiske, in Reading the

Popular (1989), has gone farthest in this respect,

arguing that the art of everyday life is commonly

involved in the transformation of consumer products.

All popular culture is the site of struggle

where meanings are never controlled by the producers,

but are actively and pleasurably produced

by the consumers. These irreverent forms of jouissance

erupt from below and are opposed to the

disciplinary techniques utilized by the power

bloc. Here there is a double pleasure involved in

the audience’s reading of popular texts. The first is

the enjoyment involved in the symbolic production

of meanings that oppose those of the power

bloc, and the second concerns the actual activity

of being productive. In this scenario, the market,

by contrast with the declining high culture of the

powerful, brings certain cultural products within

the critical horizons of the people. Many have

been extremely critical of these developments,

arguing that, unlike those who first sought to

study popular culture in the 1950s and 1960s,

such views end up endorsing an uncritical culture

of consumption. If popular culture depends upon

what we do with culture rather than what it does

to us this would seemingly cancel any criticisms

we might want to make of the power of cultural

producers. Most popular culture continues to be

shaped by the practices of a dominant capitalist

culture, whatever role it might play within the

domains of everyday life. NICK STEVENSON

population studies

– see demography.


This began as a movement of small farmers in the

South and Midwest in the late nineteenth-century

United States who desired control of the federal

government, which they believed was dominated

by northern industrialists and bankers. Populism

has resurfaced as an ambiguous political concept,

designating political positions from a call for a

more equitable distribution of wealth to criticisms

of liberal beliefs regarding abortion, gun control,

affirmative action, and the like.

Late nineteenth-century agrarian populism attempted

to preserve a way of life against an encroaching

industrial society. During this era,

technological growth was unprecedented, as railroads,

the telegraph, and eventually the telephone

increased the scope and pace of business activity.

Immigrants from southern and eastern Europe

streamed into the United States, transforming

the countenance of the working class. Large corporations

and an aggressive federal government

centralized economic and administrative power,

and local communities lost control over their


As wealth flowed into railroad and manufacturing

industries, the incomes of many small

farmers declined. They were driven into debt by

falling agricultural prices, increased transportation

costs, and a shortage of credit. The populist

movement grew as many farmers banded

together in order to pool resources and break the

monopoly on lending held by banks. Populists

developed a political and economic program,

advocating a more egalitarian economic system.

They attempted to democratically reform federal

and state governments, supporting a progressive

income tax, the direct election of United States

senators, and more reliance on popular initiatives

and referendums to change government policy.

Many of these demands were stripped of their

radical impulse and incorporated into the platform

of the Democratic Party, as populism faded

in the early years of the twentieth century.

The populists called for the power of the people

versus the elites. It provided a distinctive language

of American radicalism, different from the

Marxism more popular in Europe. Yet the definition

of who constituted the “people” was ambiguous.

Many populists harbored nativist prejudices.

Racism against African Americans sometimes

intertwined with a fear that a vast conspiracy of

moneylenders, often either Catholic or Jewish,

controlled the economy and the government.

This ambiguity continues to haunt the meaning

of populism. Many politicians embrace populism,

calling for a more egalitarian economy, and criticizing

the power of large corporations. But a conservative

cultural populism has arisen in the

United States in the wake of the controversial

era of the 1960s. Often tied to a fundamentalist

view of religion, contemporary cultural populism

feeds on animosity towards government taxation

and affirmative action programs, and policies

aimed at helping the (largely nonwhite) poor.

Yet it favors government action to suppress forms

of behavior considered immoral, from restricting

population studies populism


abortions to controlling the distribution of


Scholars such as Seymour M. Lipset in Political

Man (1960) contend that populism arose as the

United States political center broke down, and

people embraced authoritarian beliefs that gave

voice to their economic and cultural frustrations.

Progressives such as Thomas Frank in What’s the

Matter with Kansas (2004) state that American conservatives

have convinced many working-class

people that their enemy is an ambiguous cultural

elite, rather than the wealthy.


positional goods

– see consumption.


The term positivism was coined in the 1830s by

Auguste Comte as the name for his philosophy of

science. Philosophie positive, as the theory and history

of the positive sciences, whose full range was

deemed to have been completed by Comte’s own

sociology, would provide the mental framework

for industrial society. In contrast with theology

and metaphysics, positive (or scientific) knowledge

was based on impressions externelles, and was

oriented to the discovery of laws, understood as

regularities in phenomena, rather than ultimate

causes. Positivism thus had a relative rather than

absolute view of truth. “Positive,” at the same

time, meant affirmative and constructive, as opposed

to critical and negative. The “metaphysics”

that Comtean positivism sought to expunge was

not only an obfuscatory residue of religious belief.

In the context of the grande crise that marked the

birth of industrialism, it expressed the rising up of

individual reason, which, in itself, was abstract,

anarchic, and “incapable of building.” By the same

token, positivism adopted a social, rather than

individual, viewpoint, a shift that was not only

epistemological but linked to the altruisme that

gave knowledge its ends and fixed the mind on

objects outside itself.

While positivism has continued to be associated

with Comte, his totalizing philosophy and program

have long been abandoned, and the term

has come to have a more generic meaning. In

this wider sense, positivism encompasses a diverse

spectrum of positions which champion a scientific

viewpoint, and insist that knowledge claims, including

in the social domain, should confine

themselves to what can be derived from observable

phenomena. Such positions range from the

classical positivism of Comte and his followers, to

the more astringent logical positivism of the

Vienna Circle, as well as, more generally, to operationalist,

quantitative, and statistics-based tendencies

in sociology and other human sciences.

Whether sociology itself, as Comte claimed, can

be a positive science, and in what sense, has been

hotly debated throughout its history. Besides

issues about causality and agency, and about the

constructed nature of “facts,” there are difficulties

conceiving and treating the social as an objectively

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