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Defining the Term Politics

It is important for those involved with political education to be clear about which understanding of the terms politics and education they are using as the basis of their work. This page sets out to deal with our understanding of the term politics; another page, education, has been designed to address how we understand political education.

There is no uniform understanding of the term politics...

As far as political science is concerned, there is no generally accepted definition of the term politics. In truth, this is not a bad thing. After all, the very nature of social sciences and humanities means that there can never be a single or, indeed, "right" answer to a problem. To this end, the rather fruitless search for a definition of the word politics has been wisely abandoned. Whether or not power, conflict, control, peace or something else forms the core of the term politics depends much more on the issue, the interests involved and much more besides.

Our definition of the term

Our work is based on the system theory with its multi-dimensional understanding of politics. While this approach is widespread, it by no means the most important or best method. The advantage of this approach is that it integrates the wide variety of political aspects and elements, while making it possible to structure the complex nature of political reality and systematize it by always thinking of politics in a multi-dimensional way [... more on the system theory].

Politics in three dimensions...

A distinction is drawn between the three following political dimensions: Polity, politics and policy. Polity is taken to mean the formal dimension of politics, that is, the the structure of norms, the way in which procedures are regulated and the institutions in which politics takes place. Politics means the procedural dimension, or rather the decision-making processes, the settling of conflicts and the enforcing of goals and interests. This dimension encompasses several of the classic issues associated with political science (who is able to enforce their interests?; what mechanisms are in place for regulating conflict?; etc.). And finally policy is the substance-based dimension of politics and refers to solving problems and fulfilling tasks by the administrative system drawing on decisions that are binding for all (authoritative value assignments) [... more on the political dimensions].

Politics and the time dimension...

This definition of politics has proven to be very useful, especially for political education purposes. Together with the other elements associated with the analysis of policy, especially the policy cycle, it provides teachers and pupils with a tool that they can use to understand political reality [... more on the policy cycle].

More detailed texts on the term politics:

bulletThe fundamentals of the political system theory
bulletThe three dimensions of politics: polity - politics - policy
bulletThe analysis tool for the policy cycle

[Authors: Ragnar Müller and Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Schumann]

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Methods:    Teaching Politics    II    Peace Education    II    Methods



This online service on the subject of political education was developed by agora-wissen, the Stuttgart-based Gesellschaft für Wissensvermittlung über neue Medien und politische Bildung (GbR) (Partnership for the Exchange of Information Using New Media and Political Education). Please contact us with your questions or comments. Translation from German into English by twigg's Übersetzung deutsch-englisch.