South Wales Evening Post columnist Dr Matt Wall on why we should be interested in politics
Why study politics?
We've all had the experience of being asked what our job is. When this happens to me, and I mention that I'm a politics lecturer, most people quickly change subject.
There are, I think, a few reasons for this. The most common is that people feel under-qualified to discuss politics. The political world with its myriad of actors, institutions and rules can seem incomprehensible. A second reason is that, rather like religion, politics is a subject that tends to divide people, and so is seen to be unsuitable for polite conversation.
Although I rarely press the point in real-life situations, this tendency to turn away from thinking about or talking about politics dismays me. For those who feel that politics is too complicated to understand, while I can sympathise, I cannot agree. Political jargon has a way of concealing easily understandable power relationships that all of us deal with every day. Thus, a vital part of learning about politics involves uncovering the simple meanings behind intimidating words like sovereignty, legitimacy, and authority.
The second point, that politics is not an appropriate conversation topic, is equally pernicious. Certainly, it should be addressed sensitively, without point scoring or seeking to prove oneself 'right' – but if we cannot discuss politics together, how can we ever hope to understand and learn from each other?
Crucially, ignoring politics doesn't negate its presence in your life – you will still have to pay the taxes, obey the laws and (occasionally) fight in the wars that politics generates. There's an old catchphrase that sums up the situation: 'just because you don't take an interest in politics, doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you'.
This is why I'm passionate about teaching and studying politics, and why I think that you should be too.