Monday, September 15, 2014

'Who Benefits?' Now is the Result of 'Who Governs?' and 'Who Wins?' Before

Teachers know that the best way to learn something is to teach it.

I have come to see that I need to spend the first month of my "Introduction to Sociology" course on how power works and why the political economy of any society is fundamental to understanding everything else.  This is a hard lesson for students to learn - their tendency to see everything from their perspective as individuals and consumers means it takes work to envision that the structures of power that shape everyone's reality are not simply given, but are the result of the conflict of social forces.

This morning we started on William Domhoff's Who Rules America? I like using Domhoff because his fundamental questions are very practical, very graspable by students. He says that what we really want to know is 'who has the power?' but we can't measure that directly.  So we ask of any social situation 'Who benefits?', 'Who Governs?', and 'Who Wins?'.  These questions each get closer to power, but also get harder to measure.

This was the thing I learned as I was teaching Domhoff's questions this time: the answer to 'Who benefits?' now is the result of 'Who governs?' and 'Who wins?' before.  The distribution of wealth now is the direct result of who won the previous conflict of power in an earlier struggle.  There is no neutral starting point, which got distorted by power.  And there is no 'free market' solution that does not reflect ongoing struggles of 'who governs'.

This was helpful to me. I will see if it was as helpful to students.