Party organisation and perceptions of political power: the role of members in political parties

Harkins, John Colin (1983) Party organisation and perceptions of political power: the role of members in political parties. Masters thesis, Preston Polytechnic.

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The thesis investigates the development of the concept of party membership as a strategy for the incorporation of individual political actors into British political parties. An analysis of the organisational structure of the major British parties is undertaken. Organisational similarities and differences are analysed and juxtaposed with concepts of membership found
in varioua party organisations.
The relationship between the party member and the organisation is considered. Different types of membership are postulated on the basis of. the organisational levels where each member has his or her effectivity. Although party membership is defined 'objectively', ie as those persons regarded by officials of a political party as 'their' members, the
underlying methodology is subjectivist. The thesis attempts to elicit the subjective orientation of party members towards a number of political issues, especially those concerned with the distribution of power between members in each of the parties. The meaning of these distributions and the definitions of membership situations is approached from the perspective of the member.
Notions that British parties are derived from larger collectivities, classes, or ensembles of belief, are rejected. Members are not regarded as functionaries, but as social actors who by their action create and sustain the conditions of party life. The neglect of membership as an object of study is considered to arise out of predicational theories which fail to perceive the role of the party member as subject.
The first three chapters consider the concept of membership and the philosophical ideas about the nature of association from which the concept of membership is derived.
The final four chapters consider party organisation and the role of membership and make use of a social survey carried out in a number of constituencies amongst members of both the Labour and Conservative parties. This survey attempts to elicit both the political attitudes and social characteristics of party members.

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