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Micro-politics: An Underestimated Field of Qualitative Research in Political Science

Author: ROLAND WILLNER
Published in GPS, Vol. 7 No. 3

The majority of political decision-making processes take place in political
organizations such as political parties, parliaments, or ministerial bureaucracies.
This paper explores the basic assumptions of micro-politics as a concept
developed in organization research and loosely discussed in political
science. The objective is to develop a heuristic framework for microanalyses
of political organizations by referring to different theoretical approaches.
Micro-political concepts assume that there are always ‘scopes of
action’ within organizational structures. The structuring of interactions within
these scopes of action takes place less through formal rules than through
various kinds of mechanisms. Bringing together several theories which conceptualize
these structure mechanisms enables a common focus. This focus
refers to the assumption that collective knowledge in the sense of an organizational
culture provides patterns of thought which reduce complexity for
actors. Furthermore, behavioral practices arise out of this collective
knowledge which stabilizes interactions within these scopes of action. Empirical
analysis which examines collective patterns of thought and practices
within political organizations should be viewed in reference to qualitative
research designs. Three designs applicable to micro-political studies are
briefly sketched out in this paper: qualitative interviewing, ethnographic
research, and the documentary method. The objective of micro-political
studies is neither the analysis of structural restraints nor individual intentions
but the explication of observable practices with their inherent collective
knowledge in a specific organizational context, making possible systematic
descriptions, comparisons, and causal explanations of political decision-
making processes.

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