Power and Democracy - a general scheme 1998-2003


The resolution B. innst. S. nr. 2 (1997 - 98), passed by the Norwegian Parliament on 11th December 1997, authorizes a research group to compile a report on Power and Democracy within a period of five years. The members of the group were appointed at a meeting of the Norwegian Cabinet on 13th. March 1998.

The mandate states that the main theme of the report should be the terms of Norwegian parliamentary democracy and any alterations that may have occurred with regard to these terms. The report is expected to consider carefully to what extent individual participation, in the various organizations of the community and in community life itself, is affected. It will also consider to what extent the political system and institutions of government are affected, and what features characterize the relationship between individual participation and central bodies of government.

The Mandate also points to a number of vital challenges that a representative democracy will have to face - increasing internationalization, the development and availability of modern technology; the growth of public opinion; environmental issues; the problems generated by a multiethnical community; a community demanding qualifications and knowledge; decentralization, deregulation, privatization, mechanisms influencing markets and consumer involvement.

Furthermore, the mandate suggests that consideration be paid to the significance of socio-economical and cultural divisions within the community and the individual's age and sex as regards prospects of participating and exerting one's influence in community life.

Finally, the mandate leaves it to the research group's discretion to consider other factors that may be of significance and to interpret the mandate more precisely in order to supplement, limit or shape a more manageable approach to the problems under consideration. The mandate invites the research group to avail itself of relevant research work being carried out in Norway and to co-ordinate part of its research with parallel investigative projects in Sweden and Denmark. In this context it is suggested that one should establish links with a Scandinavian/internationally composed reference group of research workers within this field.

One does not expect that all areas of the mandate will be investigated equally thoroughly. Extensive research has been carried out in certain areas and this may be relatively easily utilized. In other areas it will be almost impossible to present an adequate solution to the problems being investigated. The research group is advised to focus its efforts on topics and approach to problems that lend themselves to scientifically acceptable investigations.

The group will be expected to keep the threads of research gathered within a dominant framework. This will be a particularly difficult challenge since the research group itself is professionally and geographically diversified, and because a so-called network model is being planned with more or less comprehensive tasks being relayed to research communities even beyond the group's own professional institutions.

The following is, from a research point of view, a collective and manageable interpretation of the mandate.

A current report on Norwegian power and democracy
The Nation State has always provided a dominating framework for democracy. The idea of a representative democracy grew out of politically integrated Nation States, and the principles of participation and distribution have developed within the bounds of such states. Constitutional bodies of power developed out of an institutional differentiation and distribution of the collective authority of the State. The public sphere became distinct from the private ; the political system became separated from the administrative, the religious, the legal, free enterprise economy and the scientific systems. Functional specialization is closely linked to the development of a modern state.

Historically speaking, the conditions of democracy are bound to the conditions of the Nation State, and it is a more open question in what ways democracy may be tied to other boundaries. The State has been described as both a monopoly of power and a monopoly of taxation. Legitimate political power lies within the bodies of the sovereign state and taxation provides the means for redistribution of resources and the exercise of common tasks. The existence and functioning of the political system is dependent upon large sections of the masses accepting this twofold power as justified and legitimate. In this way the Nation State operates as a system of resolve and a political community, both as a framework for authoritative resolutions and for a collective identity.

Norwegian politics and social life are different today than during the period 1972 to 1982 when the previous report on Power and Democracy was drawn up. The purpose of this current report on Power and Democracy in Norway will partly be to indicate and elucidate on the changes that have occurred. Thus, it will be necessary for both individual investigative projects and the final report to be presented within a historical and comparative perspective

The Nation State today is facing strong challenges from both outside and within its own borders. On the outside there is extensive internationalization where a number of vital resolutions escape control of the individual state, and where there are queries about the Nation State's power both as a sovereign system of resolve and as a framework for collective identity.

Within the Nation State's borders there is an intricate alteration in the dividing lines between separate institutions, where the relationship between political bodies and market-directed, legal, religious, cultural or scientific principles appears complex and problematic.

The external framework has been changed by an extreme internationalization or globalization. The term " globalization " refers partly to an extreme stage of internationalization where financial activity in particular, pays no attention to state borders, and partly to the process leading to this stage. It is precisely this process and tendency that are important for our interpretation of the term.

Once again a historical perspective is important because a large number of aspects associated with internationalization and globalization are not novel.

As far as the Norwegian authorities are concerned, globalization mainly involves a limitation of the capacity for action. This means :

  • that taxation of capital becomes more difficult when there is a free flow of capital to low-cost countries,
  • that wealthy countries are forced to a greater extent to choose between a higher level of unemployment or a lower level of wages in many industries,
  • that welfare arrangements become strained in the face of international competition,
  • that democratically elected bodies are unable to reach and communicate with more distant seats of power where decisions of consequence are made,
  • that environmental consequences draw up the lines for political priorities or recoil in the shape of unintentional side effects.

At the same time globalization provides new impulses and possibilities for adopting supernational measures. The authorities' capacity for action, their power and their impotence must be more precisely surveyed.

Widespread globalization yields one set of guiding principles in such a survey, the commitments and opportunities laid down in the EEC (European Economic Co-operation) agreement yield a second, the conditions and negotiations within WTO (World Trade Organization) yield a third, and the wealth lying in oil and gas resourceswith their strategic advantages and vulnerability, a fourth.

It has been suggested that facilities for management become inwardly eroded when part systems are allowed to act on their own logic, independent of any co-ordinated distribution and resulting in unintentional and unforseen consequences. There are however, changes in the opposite direction as well since part systems become linked in new ways and dividing lines separating the private sphere and the public sphere become displaced.This appears to accompany rather extensive changes of values among the population and is distinguished by slightly less confidence in public authorities and a greater demand for development of the individual. It is possible that modern ideological and organizing trends may be powerful enough to reduce differences between the various part systems.

All these new and in some ways dramatic challenges facing the Nation State and its governing bodies, provide a collecting framework for the investigation of the conditions of democracy and the ways in which these conditions may have altered.

Four spheres and their interplay
How then, should this capacity for action be utilized as it is shaped by interior and exterior processes? The starting-point for the analyses will be four spheres linked closely to bodies of state, to the public sector, to community arenas and local environment and to market and production areas of the community. There is firm evidence to support the claim that civilian society is being transformed and that the balance between state and market has been altered.We shall be investigating the relationship between these four spheres, the balance between them and any alterations to this balance that may have occurred.
  1. The power of bodies of the State

    The previous report on " Power and Democracy " gives, in this respect, some interesting starting-points through investigations of governmental bodies and State segmentation. The relationship between vital political institutions will play a focal part in our discussion on this point. Has the balance of power between vital bodies of government been upset, for instance by experiencing long terms with minority governments? What conditions exist for cross-sector harmonization? Has sectorial politics itself assumed another character? Has the position of bureaucracy been altered through politicization of the administration?

    What is the current relationship between the law and politics and between constitutional distribution of power and true exercise of authority? The relationship to lesser public authorities will also be of significance here. Central-peripheral relations become displaced and local self-government is subjected to pressure from both an impairment in the participation of local government electors and contradictory ruling and delegating on the part of the State. It may be true that the role played by political parties has changed, and this will be of consequence for the way in which electoral channels leading to political influence function.

  2. Power within the public sphere

    Democracy does not only depend on the ways in which political institutions are organized, but also on the way civilian society operates. How do people at large act politically? Experiences and interests become channelled into organizations, political parties and pressure groups.

    Important sections of the public area develop through the interaction of these organizing institutions and those rather more anonymous hegemonies associated with knowledge, reflection, the genres of mass media, linguistic usage and ideologies. Here too, the media play a vital role, and the development of mass media - both as regards form and content - provides an important intake for changes in power/impotence relations. The conditions for collective action and the ways in which these conditions may have changed should be investigated. In the same manner, the conditions inspiring confidence between the people and the public institutions that democracy is dependent upon should also be examined. What is the situation as regards the distribution of political power and political impotence on the basis of geographical administrative categories such as central or peripheral localization orsocial categories such as sex, age, social class affiliation and ethnic background?

    Is there any foundation for claiming that class antagonisms are supplemented or even replaced by other antagonisms between élitist groups and the masses, for instance about questions concerning internationalization and globalization or about education, commanding information and development of media?

    How will the sexual norms of " The Equal Opportunities Society " be expressed in the various parts of the public body, and what consequence will such norms have for the allotment of status and authority in social debate.

  3. Power within community arenas and local environment

    The community becomes stabilized by signs and symbols fashioning a common identity. These signs and symbols create and support reciprocal confidence between individuals and groups. National identity has been regarded as one such mechanism of integration with immediate consequence for social solidarity, crossing regional and social class boundaries.

    It has been claimed that stable group indentifications are challenged by processes of individualization that allow the individual to extract values, ideas and role-models from different cultures and global media. This in turn creates, new forms of political discussion and new forms of the growth of conflict and solidarity. The conditions for creation of individual and commom identities reveal a great deal about civilian societyand the terms for democracy.

    The relations of everyday life within home and family, local environment and other community arenas, constitute the foundation for development of values, sense of belonging and ability to influence one's own situation.

    This applies within a majority culture, within different age groups and in communities based upon religion, various forms of cohabitation, ethnic background or sex.

    At the same time local environment exhibits a cutting-surface facing large social institutions such as kindergartens and schools, health services and social insurance systems. All these contribute in regulating individual autonomy and experience of power by both limiting and expanding the individual's possibilities for taking action.

  4. Power of production and market

    On the one hand important decisions are made in markets which are only indirectly subjected to political control ; on the other hand a great deal of public control is carried out through a planned application of market mechanisms.

    Privatization and internationalization involve the balance between politics and market being upset ; at the same time a liberal market's ideology may seem to have gained a stronger position in the social debate.

    Industry and commerce produce ideas, values and forms of organization that have an influence on large areas of social life. Nor is the market a homogeneous institution ; participants in the market unite and they require political legitimacy. Modern conditions for industry and capital have altered power relationships in the economy causing serious consequences for the exercise of authority.

    The Norwegian community has developed a public strategy for comprehensive state ownership, partly as a countermove against a greater internationalized production where taxation of capital provokes the transfer of concerns to low-cost countries. It will be important to consider this phenomenon more closely.A survey of changes in structural and ownership conditions within the the fields of production and trade will provide a significant starting-point.

    Industry and commerce supply ideas and forms of organization that influence the shape and content of democracy.

    Industry and commerce are also linked to democracy by way of a system of negotiation and the relationship between labour organizations on the one hand, and through forms of shop-floor democracy and terms of consumer power on the other.

    Democratization of labour was a key topic in the social debate of the 1970's, and important reforms were implemented. These arrangements are now to a great extent, taken for granted. At the same time the companies' framework conditions have been altered in decisive ways during the two previous decades. Thus it is important to investigate to what extent current arrangements have reached a satisfactory form or whether their effects are being undermined by new economic terms.

    The interaction and links between state, public area, community arenas and market, exercise a gathering grasp on the " Power and Democracy " report.The problems associated with democracy provide a limiting focus. Internationalization and globalization impinge directly upon each of the four spheres, and at the same time influence the relationships between them. In this manner the analysis of exterior framework conditions provides simultaneously an intake for processes of alteration both within and between the institutional spheres.

    Environmental questions link state and market in a global perspective; development of media and information technology characterize the lives of ordinary citizens and make controlling demands on public politics; cultural changes are reinforced through international market mechanisms and consumer trends and they influence the basis for national identity and social integration; public regulations and state politics share and alter the distribution of power in the labour market.

    Positions of power by virtue of state, market, civilian community and community arenas may replace each other through strategic manoeuvres, for instance by new vulnerability in the market being compensated by organization or by attempts to capture legitimacy and political control.

The Dimensions of Power
This introductory framework implies that there are several sides to the question of power and that no single model of power deals satisfactorily with all of them. Thus from a professional point of view, power is a disputed issue. Power has not become the collective basic element for political studies that some would have hoped a number of decades ago.

Firstly, power represents resources and ability to influence results. Such direct power may be exercised by using compulsion or by exchange relations; or in the terminology used in the previous report on Power and Democracy: Control of results that carry the interests of others.

Such conditions of power also embrace an indistinct grey area, where the opposite party's expectations allow adjustment for a potential exercise of power.

Secondly, power works along the lines of legitimacy. Power lies in methods of presentation of a case, procedures and symbolization. This is the power lying in the categories being used, in the rules and regulations that govern the resolution making processes and in the context in which a case and its field of information are being considered.

Thirdly, power is a situational definition; it is the distinguishing between that which is essential and the unessential; it is the ability to control and decide the agenda. In other words, it is the ability to keep certain questions out of the list of relevent topics to be discussed and to manoeuvre other questions on to that list.

Fourthly, power is incorporated in our identifications and opinions.

Power relationships are weaved into social and material structures ranging from social class and group division to the fashioning of our physical environment. Simultaneously, there is a symbolical aspect to power - the power of the State manifests itself symbolically, the public sphere is characterized by symbolizations, identity as well as consumer trends are influenced and expressed symbolically. The symbolic provides institutions with meaning, makes them legitimate in the eyes of the people or deprives them of such legitimacy. In this context profound historic changes are taking place. A great deal of political dispute is really a struggle about symbols - the national symbols, symbols of modernity, equality and participation. The Norwegian debate concerning affiliation with EU (The European Union) was to a large extent a war of symbols where illustrations and metaphors played an important role. Power manifests itself symbolically, and symbols represent power. Changes in a community taking place at the sign and symbolic level will always be important for a report on Power and Democracy.

Expressions like " power politics " often carry a negative interpretation, but power is not only used by those who are powerful. Power must also be seen as a positive resource for the community. It should be regarded as the ability to conquer collective impotence. Indeed, power may be justified as legitimate authority.

Thus we have outlined a dominating framework for an analysis of power where a multi-faceted conception of power is being considered. The notion of democracy must be given similar nuances of meaning. We may restrict our idea of democracy to a competition between political parties taking part in free elections where there is universal suffrage, but this idea may also be extended to include broader forms of participation, public debate, communication and dialogue. The conditions necessary for power and exercise of power to be accepted as legitimate provide much of the connection between power and democracy in the report's mandate. At this point normative questions that the report will be expected to consider arise:

  • how it is possible to state the grounds for different forms of power and democracy;
  • which forms of control are compatible with each other;
  • which criteria make the basis for fashioning institutions and decision making systems.
Project fields
The report in the first instance will have to be carried out by way of a number of individual investigations within a dominant framework, with the view of some later combination of results. Individual projects may be divided up into larger areas, where certain issues may be dealt with using a synthesizing approach based upon already available research material, while other issues will demand modern empirical research methods at an advanced level. Part of the report's mandate is already covered by available research or from the pending results of parallel research programmes. The research group is expected to make use of this material and to decide and plan work priority so that the unecessary carrying out of the same task twice may be avoided.

A considerable number of the projects should have a comparative perspective, and above all they should highlight characteristics of development and processes of change. A historical perspective will be necessary to indicate the importance of internationalization, modern technology and forms of communication, of the processes inherent in equal opportunities and of the increasing number of immigrants.

Part investigations will sometimes be directed by members of the research group individually or co-operatively and sometimes presented as a research task to be carried out by research scientists and / or professional bodies outside the group. Such tasks will cover a wide field ranging from brief articles and reports to more comprehensive projects.

Individual projects will be expected to be restricted to the bounds of the report's mandatory framework, and from various points of view to cover approaches to problems that illuminate the main topics outlined above. The central theme of this will be power and democracy as a system of control within the Norwegian Nation State, and the tensions that arise when the Nation State's authority is subjected to challenging forces, both from without and from within.

  1. The report will contain ideological and theoretical analyses linked to "power" and " democracy ". These are disputed notions in the field of scientific research, with varying political content and interpretation. At the same time however, it must be said that they raise fundamental normative questions that require clarification.
  2. The report will include a comprehensive élitist investigation with analysis of the channels leading to a career, of network and attitudes in politics, of industry and commerce and of the field of culture. The Swedish report on Power and Democracy provides comparable material and the Danish research group plans to undertake a similar investigation. The report will also comprise a thorough survey on democracy and participation among the general public.
  3. The report will embrace analyses of the consequences of globalization for Norway, covering various aspects that restrict or open room for political action:
    • the formal and organizational commitments,
    • market liberalism and deregulation,
    • the development of technology,
    • environmental questions,
    • changes in the power of production,
    • migrations and the cultural challenge.
  4. The report will extend the previous report's investigation of the power of the State. It is expected to put to the test the thesis on " the segmented State ", analyse implications about " the modern State " and examine power relationships between state bodies during a period with minority governments. The report should present an illustration of to what extent the corporative idea has changed character and it should examine the role of the controlling professions, the administration, the constitution and the Law Courts in relation to political authorities.
  5. The report will analyse the significance of decentralization, regional power and local structures of power. This hints at formal procedures as well as control of resources and industrial economic conditions. Comprehensive research material is available in these respects and the research group will avail itself of this material while ackowledging simultaneously the room for modern empirical investigations within selected fields. In this connection, the relationship between the indigenous Lapp population and the modern Norwegian Nation State will also be of great interest.
  6. The report will cover the conditions for collective formation and organization. The power of organization includes the role of political parties in the decision making process, but it also includes trade and professional organizations, action committees, voluntary organizations, the Church and religion. This illustrates the strength that lies in what is known as the civilian community.
  7. The report will view democracy c" from below " through investigations of socialization and the growth of opinion in the family, the local environment and the school. From this perspective democracy will be regarded on the basis of participation and power of different social groups where sex, class, age, place of residence and ethnic background are differentiating factors.
  8. The report will analyse the processes behind equal opportunities and the power of the sexes. During the past 30 years striking changes have taken place between men and women at places of employment, in the family, inside voluntary organizations and in politics. However, these processes of equal opportunities have developed differently and have had different consequences within various areas of the community. The report will place importance on analyses of sexual political norms and values as they are expressed through political ideas, growth of opinion and social practice. In this way the report will investigate processes of cultural differentiation and sexual significances of power.
  9. The report will investigate the power of information and communication by means of analyses of technological development characteristics and mass media.The media's boundaries and content have been greatly altered since the 1970's. Modern technology is of consequence for power relations and democracy. The mass media play a key part in the growth of public opinion by virtue of their power of definition, power of influence and power of agenda. Correspondingly the lack of access to media will represent a source of political and social impotence.
  10. The report is expected to analyse the power of knowledge from different points of view. Part investigations of the role of science and the relationship between science and control, of development and the controlling professions and of the autonomy of the knowledge system and the way it affects the individual's perception of reality, will be iniated. The report will also analyse in a broader sense relations in the cultural field. Once again, the power of definition and ideological hegemonies will be crucial.
  11. The report will examine power structures existing in the world of industry and commerce in order to present a current illustration of the power of market and the power of production. It will investigate conditions for ownership with emphasis on the degree of concentration within different social groups and the elements of foreign and state ownership. Investigations of economic power overlap to a great extent a number of the other topic areas such as globalization, power of the State and regional power.
  12. The report is expected to analyse power and democracy within the labour market and at places of employment. This includes negotiations, the participation of employees in formal bodies such as management committees and committees for matters concerning the working enviroment. It also includes participation in decision making linked to organizing and carrying out work. Both types of participation must be regarded in connection with changes in the market conditions for businesses and in ownership structures nationally and internationally.

This division into project fields is based on two principles. The one is vertical with power and democracy viewed on various levels, from State leadership to the life of the individual citizen. The other is horizontal with power and democracy viewed within part systems of the community such as politics, economy, justice, science, culture, education, mass media and religion. The elements connecting project fields with the projects themselves will be the superior perspectives on state, civilian community, market and community arenas within a Nation State under pressure.


Publisert 28. okt. 2003 13:55 - Sist endret 25. nov. 2010 13:52