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TU Berlin

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Sociology of Politics

What is politics? How is it done, and to what effect?

We study politics within a broader sociology of governance perspective with a view to how it intertwines with other modes of shaping collective orders, such as science and art.

The efficacy of politics rests with the 'performative representation' of collective subjects. The practical work of politics thus comprises

  • the construction of 'we'-identities and collective interests,
  • the generation of political authority by credibly representing a collective will, and its use for
  • the mobilisation of collective action and the legitimization of norms

We can thus speak of politics as a practice of 'reflexive collectivization', a process in which society continuously shapes itself, often in contested and conflictive ways. The sociology of politics examines the patterns and dynamics of politics as they differ and change across culture and history, often in comparative perspective.

As we do not understand politics tied to law and a territorial monopoly of violence, we find it at work in various settings beyond the state and the formal institutions of liberal democracy. Politics plays a key role legitimizing and effectuating government by the state, but it is also at the heart of articulating partisan policy programmes, mobilizing social movements and interest groups, and of constructing collective interests within transnational and global governance initiatives. We even find politics among friends and in work relations, whenever a ‘we’ is invoked to create a commitment for collective action. In a broader view on governance as the shaping of collective orders, we study politics as a mode of ‘governing by will’, which is intertwined with other modes, such as ‘governing by fact’ (science and technology) and ‘governing by style’ (art and design).

Our research and teaching focuses on relations of politics and science in matters of innovation and governance, particular with respect to issues of energy, environment and sustainable development:

  • governance of innovation (reflexive creation of novelty, shaping collective experimentation and expanding socio-material arrangements of practice, science and technology policy, anticipatory assessment of dynamics in science, technology and innovation)
  • innovation in governance (science and expertise in governance, experimentation and expansion of particular models of governing such as tradable permit markets for emissions and destructions of natural habitat or public participation methods such as citizens’ juries and consensus conferences, or experimental management schemes like transition management and adaptive management)

A more recent area of our work focuses on relations of politics with aesthetics. This is where we explore the ways in which art and design can shape the ways in which people attune their senses, in which they perceive and experience life, and how they affectively relate with each other and the world. Of particular interest is how art and design intertwine with politics in the shaping of collective orders through public relations/propaganda, but also through ‘artivism’ and other aestheticized forms of mobilization and protest.

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