The thesis is organized around a basic distinction between structural power and interactional power. The former is defined as the ability to set conditions, make decisions and take actions regarding the facilities and institutions of a given social system. It is argued on theoretical and empirical grounds that the persons most likely to exercise such power in a local community are those elected or appointed to authoritative political-administrative positions i.e. prescribed decision-makers. The conditions limiting the validity of this proposition and consequently the method of identifying community decision-makers suggested by it are specified. Interactional power is defined in terms of the ability of one actor to affect the cost-reward position of another so as to attain desired outcomes. This study is concerned only with situations where one of the actors is a prescribed decision-maker. Data on this type of power was collected through reputational items, questions on participation in decision-making and newspaper reports on local affairs. The information is presented in terms of three major categories of interaction:- (a) Interaction between prescribed decision-makers and actors external to the community. The most important external actors are found to be representatives of central government departments. This leads to a discussion of community autonomy as a crucial factor in characterising the environment of decision-making. A full characterization of the environment, including intra-community as well as extra-community factors, is presented through a conceptual framework derived from social action "theory". (b) Interaction between prescribed decision-makers and other community actors. The most important of these are found to be organized interest groups and their representatives rather than outstanding individuals. The relative importance of these groups is explained in terms of the extent to which they are able to mediate the general goals of legitimacy and effectiveness pursued by those in authority. Data under this heading is also used to show that structural power is centred on prescribed decision-makers, as posited initially, and not on persons or groups outside the authority structure. (c) Interaction between prescribed decision-makers i.e. between elected or appointed members of the local authority. As a preliminary to the analysis, an examination of the recruitment of elected members is made. Clear differences are shown between the Labour party and the Conservative and Liberal parties regarding mechanisms of recruitment and the motivations which are tapped. Also discussed is the turnover rate of elected members. The relative influence of individual members is explained in terms of formal positions held and personal attributes making for effective participation in committee discussions; these being the crucial situations where most community decisions are made. Special attention is paid to the influence of officials relative to elected members. Influence resources are shown to make for specialized rather than general influence. The generation of ties of liking and obligation between committee members is shown to influence behaviour in ways which can modify or cross-cut the effect of political affiliations. Finally it is shown that over the past thirty years the major changes in the local political system have been towards a greater diversity of elected decision-makers in terms of political party and occupation; a slight increase in the variety of actors attempting to influence those in authority; and a greater ability on the part of those in authority to resist attempts at influence within the community. Concentration on these particular dimensions of change is based upon a suggested typology of oligarchy-pluralism.
|Date of Award||1968|