Politics, Power, and Authority

Politics

Political sociology studies the relation between state and society, authority and power, and the methods used to formulate social policy.

Learning Objectives

Diagram the three major traditional theoretical frameworks of political sociology, plus trends in contemporary sociology

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The term ” politics ” is generally applied to behavior within civil governments, but politics has been observed in all human group interactions. It consists of social relations involving authority or power, the regulation of political units, and the methods used to formulate and apply social policy.
  • Traditionally there have been four main areas of research: the socio-political formation of the modern state; how social inequality influences politics; how social movements outside of the formal institutions affect formal politics; and power relationships within and between social groups.
  • There are three major theoretical frameworks: pluralism, elite or managerial theory, and class analysis.
  • Pluralism sees politics primarily as a contest among competing interest groups. It holds the view that politics and decision making are located mostly in the framework of government, but many non-governmental groups use their resources to exert influence.
  • Elite or managerial theory is sometimes called a state-centered approach. It posits that a small minority—consisting of members of the economic elite and policy-planning networks—holds the most power and that this power is independent of a state’s democratic elections process.
  • Social class theory analysis emphasizes the political power of capitalist elites.

Key Terms

  • social policy: Guidelines, principles, legislation and activities that affect the living conditions conducive to human welfare.
  • politics: the art or science of influencing people on a civic, or individual level, when there are more than 2 people involved
  • state: Any sovereign polity. A government.

Politics is the process by which groups of people make decisions. The term is generally applied to behavior within civil governments, but politics has been observed in all human group interactions, including corporate, academic, and religious institutions. It consists of social relations involving authority or power, the regulation of political units, and the methods and tactics used to formulate and apply social policy.

Contemporary political sociology involves the study of relations between state and society.

In the past, a typical research question in political sociology might have been: “Why do so few American citizens choose to vote? ” or “What difference does it make if women get elected? ”

Modern political sociologists are now focused on questions such as: “How is the body a site of power? “, “How are emotions relevant to global poverty? “, or “What difference does knowledge make to democracy? ”

Traditional Political Sociology

Traditionally there have been four main areas of research in political sociology:

  • The socio-political formation of the modern state
  • “Who rules? ” How social inequality between groups (class, race, gender, etc.) influences politics
  • How public personalities, social movements, and trends outside of the formal institutions of political power affect formal politics
  • Power relationships within and between social groups (e.g. families, workplaces, bureaucracy, media, etc.).

Political sociology was traditionally concerned with how social trends, dynamics, and structures of domination affect formal political processes. It also explored how various social forces work together to change political policies. From this perspective there are three major theoretical frameworks: pluralism, elite or managerial theory, and class analysis (which overlaps with Marxist analysis).

Pluralism

Pluralism sees politics as a contest between competing interest groups. It holds the view that politics and decision making are located mostly in the framework of government, but many non-governmental groups use their resources to exert influence. Groups of individuals try to maximize their interests. There are multiple lines of power that shift as power is a continuous bargaining process between competing groups. Any change under this view will be slow and incremental—groups have different interests and may act as “veto groups” to destroy legislation that they do not agree with.

Elite/Managerial Theory

Elite or managerial theory is sometimes called a state-centered approach. It also seeks to describe and explain power relationships in contemporary society. The theory posits that a small minority—consisting of members of the economic elite and policy-planning networks—holds the most power. This power is independent of a state’s democratic elections process. Through positions in corporations, corporate boards, and policy-planning networks, members of the “elite” are able to exert significant power over the policy decisions of corporations and governments.

Class Analysis

Social class analysis emphasizes the political power of capitalist elites. It can be split into two parts. One is the ‘power structure’ or ‘instrumentalist’ approach; the other is the ‘structuralist’ approach. The power structure approach focuses on determining who rules, while the structuralist approach emphasizes the way a capitalist economy operates, allowing and encouraging the state to do some things but not others.

Contemporary Political Sociology

Contemporary political sociology is concerned with the play of power and politics across societies, which includes, but is not restricted to relations between the state and society. In part, this is a product of the growing complexity of social relations, the impact of social movement organizing, and the relative weakening of the state via globalization. Political sociology is as much focused on micro questions (the formation of identity through social interaction; the politics of knowledge), as it is on macro questions (how to capture and use state power).

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President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union Address: Politics is a decision making process, which often takes place in legislative bodies such as the U.S. Congress.

Power

Power is frequently defined as the ability to influence the behavior of others with or without resistance.

Learning Objectives

Differentiate between power and constraint, using real life examples

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Power can be seen as evil or unjust, but the exercise of power is accepted as endemic to humans as social beings. The use of power need not involve coercion, force or the threat of force.
  • The sociological examination of power concerns itself with discovering and describing the relative strengths: equal or unequal; stable or subject to periodic change.
  • Power may derive from a number of sources, including social class (material wealth can equal power), resource currency (material items such as money, property, food), personal or group charisma, or social influence of tradition (compare ascribed power).
  • Researchers have documented the bystander effect: they found that powerful people are three times as likely to first offer help to a stranger in distress.

Key Terms

  • unilateralism: A tendency of nations to act on their own, or with only minimal consultation and involvement with other nations.
  • bystander effect: When someone is less likely to help another if other potential helpers are present.
  • power elite: a small group of people who control a disproportionate amount of wealth or political power
  • power: The ability to get one’s way even in the face of opposition to one’s goals.

Power is frequently defined by political scientists as the ability to influence the behavior of others with or without resistance. The term authority is often used for power perceived as legitimate by the social structure. Power can be seen as evil or unjust, but the exercise of power is accepted as endemic to humans as social beings. The use of power need not involve coercion, force or the threat of force. At one extreme, power closely resembles what English speakers call “influence”, although some authors make a distinction between the two.

The sociological examination of power involves discovering and describing the relative strengths: equal or unequal; stable or subject to periodic change. Sociologists usually analyze relationships in which parties have relatively equal or nearly equal power in terms of constraint rather than of power. Thus power has a connotation of unilateralism. If this were not so, then all relationships could be described in terms of power, and its meaning would be lost.

Power may derive from a number of sources, including social class (material wealth can equal power), resource currency (material items such as money, property, food), personal or group charisma, ascribed power (acting on perceived or assumed abilities, whether these bear testing or not), social influence of tradition (compare ascribed power), etc.

People use more than rewards, threats and information to influence others. In everyday situations, people use a variety of power tactics to push or prompt others into particular action. There are many examples of power tactics that are quite common and employed everyday. Some of these tactics include bullying, collaboration, complaining, criticizing, demanding, disengaging, evading, humor, inspiring, manipulating, negotiating, socializing and supplicating. Recent experimental psychology suggests that the more power one has the less one takes on the perspective of others, implying that the powerful have less empathy.

Powerful people are also more likely to take action. In one example, more powerful people turned off an irritatingly close fan twice as much as less powerful people. Researchers have documented the “bystander effect” and found that powerful people are three times as likely to first offer help to a stranger in distress.

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A rally of the trade union UNISON in Oxford during a strike: Labor unions attempt to bring more balance into the relationship between employers and employees by forming large coalitions of employees who, by working together, can exert power of their own.

Authority

Authority refers to the use of power that is seen as legitimate or socially approved/recognized.

Learning Objectives

Give examples of the three types of authority as defined by Max Weber and what distinguishes all of them from coercion or force

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Power can be exerted by the use of force or violence. Authority, by contrast, depends on subordinate groups consenting to the use of power wielded by superior groups.
  • Weber defined domination (authority) as the chance of commands being obeyed by a specifiable group of people. Legitimate authority is that which is recognized as legitimate and justified by both the ruler and the ruled.
  • Weber states that legitimacy distinguishes authority, from coercion, force, power, leadership, persuasion and influence. Superiors, he states, feel that they have a right to issue commands; subordinates perceive an obligation to obey.
  • Authoritarianism primarily differs from totalitarianism in that social and economic institutions exist that are not under governmental control.
  • The three attributes of authority are status, specialist skills, and social position.

Key Terms

  • power: The ability to get one’s way even in the face of opposition to one’s goals.
  • authority: The power to enforce rules or give orders.

Authority is the legitimate or socially approved use of power that a person or a group holds over another. Legitimacy is vital to the notion of authority; legitimacy is the main means by which authority is distinguished from more general notions of power. Power can be exerted by the use of force or violence. Authority, by contrast, depends on subordinate groups consenting to the use of power wielded by superior groups.

Max Weber, in his sociological and philosophical work, identified and distinguished three types of legitimate domination (Herrschaft in German, which generally means ‘domination’ or ‘rule’). These have sometimes been translated to English as types of authority, because domination is not seen as a political concept. Weber defined domination (authority) as the chance of commands being obeyed by a specifiable group of people. Legitimate authority is that which is recognized as legitimate and justified by both the ruler and the ruled.

The first type discussed by Weber is rational-legal authority. It is a form of authority with legitimacy that depends on formal rules and established laws of the state, which are usually written down and are often very complex.

The second type of authority is traditional authority, which derives from long-established customs, habits, and social structures. When power passes from one generation to another, it is known as traditional authority.

The third form of authority is charismatic authority. Here, the charisma of the individual or the leader plays an important role.

Weber states that legitimacy distinguishes authority from coercion, force, power, leadership, persuasion, and influence. Superiors, he states, feel that they have a right to issue commands; subordinates perceive an obligation to obey. The degree to which these rights and obligations are felt is based on the perceived legitimacy of the authority. A well-established, respected, democratically elected government typically wields more authority than an ad hoc, temporary, or corrupt government.

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A Teacher’s Authority: Teachers have authority because students recognize that their power over the classroom is legitimate.

Authority and Legitimate Violence

Max Weber conceived of the state as a monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force.

Learning Objectives

Assess Weber’s argument about the state’s relationship to physical force

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Weber defines the state as a community successfully claiming authority over legitimate use of physical force in a given territory.
  • Besides the police and the military, private force can be used too, as long as it has legitimacy derived from the state.
  • The right of self-defense is the right by which civilians acting on their own behalf may engage in violence for the sake of defending one’s own life or the lives of others.

Key Terms

  • right of self-defense: The right of self-defense (according to U.S. law) is the right by which civilians acting on their own behalf may engage in violence for the sake of defending one’s own life or the lives of others, including the use of deadly force.
  • the state: A state is a political organization with a centralized government that maintains a monopoly over the legitimate use of force within a certain territory.
  • Max Weber: (1864–1920) A German sociologist, philosopher, and political economist who profoundly influenced social theory, social research, and the discipline of sociology itself.
  • monopoly: a situation in which one party or company exclusively provides a particular product or service, dominating that market and generally exerting powerful control over it

Max Weber, in Politics as a Vocation, conceived of the state as a monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force. According to Weber, the state is that entity that “upholds the claim to the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force in the enforcement of its order. ” The state’s authority is derived from this: the state can enforce its precepts through force without losing its legitimate authority. This definition of the state has figured prominently in philosophy of law and in political philosophy throughout the twentieth century.

Ownership of territory is another characteristic that Weber deemed prerequisite for a state. Territory is necessary because it defines the scope of the state’s authority: use of force is acceptable, but only in the jurisdiction specified by the state’s lands. Such a monopoly, according to Weber, must occur via a process of legitimation.

The police and the military are the state’s main instruments of legitimate violence, but this does not mean that only public force can be used: private force can be used, too, as long as it has legitimacy derived from the state. The right of self-defense is the right by which civilians acting on their own behalf may engage in violence for the sake of defending one’s own life or the lives of others, including the use of deadly force. In any instance where an individual uses force to defend a third party, it must be demonstrated that the third party was in a position that required another individual’s intervention. The right of self-defense is a private form of legitimate violence that is recognized by the state.

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A Helicopter Operated by Blackwater Worldwide: Blackwater Worldwide is private military company that contracts with the United States to provide military services. States may maintain a monopoly on legitimate violence but outsource its execution by contracting with private parties such as Blackwater.

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A police officer: States maintain a monopoly on violence, exercised by police officers.

Traditional Authority

Traditional authority refers to a form of leadership in which authority derives from tradition or custom.

Learning Objectives

Compare patrimonial government with feudalism within the context of traditional authority

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Weber traced traditional domination back to patriarchs, their households, and the ancient tradition of family. In such systems, the master is designated in accordance with the rules of inheritance.
  • Patrimonial government occurs when the ruler’s household expands to governmental offices. All officials are personal dependents or favorites of the ruler, and are appointed by him.
  • Feudalism replaced the paternal relationship of patrimonalism with a contract of allegiance based on knightly militarism.

Key Terms

  • feudalism: A social system that is based on personal ownership of resources and personal fealty between a suzerain (lord) and a vassal (subject). Defining characteristics of feudalism are direct ownership of resources, personal loyalty, and a hierarchical social structure reinforced by religion.
  • patrimonial government: A form of governance in which all power flows directly from the leader. The leaders of these countries typically enjoy absolute personal power.
  • tradition: A part of culture that is passed from person to person or generation to generation, possibly differing in detail from family to family, such as the way holidays are celebrated.

Traditional Authority

Traditional authority is a type of leadership in which the authority of a ruling regime is largely tied to tradition or custom. In sociology, the concept of traditional authority comes from Max Weber ‘s tripartite classification of authority. In addition to traditional authority, Weber claimed that the other two styles of authority were charismatic authority and rational-legal authority. Weber noted that, in history, these ideal types of domination always seemed to occur in combinations.

Weber traced traditional domination back to patriarchs, their households, and the ancient tradition of the family. In such systems, the master, almost exclusively an older father, is designated in accordance with the rules of inheritance. He has no administrative staff, nor any machinery to enforce his will by force alone. Instead, he depends on the willingness of subservient group members to respect his authority. They obey him based on the belief that this is their duty, sanctioned by tradition.

Patrimonial government is related to this model, but is slightly different. This occurs when a patriarchal ruler’s household expands to governmental offices. In this style of leadership, all officials are personal dependents or favorites of the ruler, and are appointed by the ruler. Their interactions with the ruler are based on paternal authority and filial dependence. Military force is an important instrument of patrimonial rule. Patrimonial dominance has often prevailed in the Orient.

Patrimonalism and Feudalism

In comparison to patrimonalism, feudalism has one major similarity and several important differences. The similarity is that both are based on tradition and have powerful rulers who grant rights in return for military and administrative services. There are two important differences. First, feudalism replaced the paternal relationship of patrimonalism with a contract of allegiance based on knightly militarism. Second, in a patrimonial government, officials are personally dependent on the patriarch. In feudalism, these individuals are replaced with vassals, who have contractual freedom, personal allegiance, and socioeconomic prominence.

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Louis XIV of France: Historically, kings have derived their authority from tradition.

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King Abdullah bin Abdul al-Saud of Saudi Arabia: King Abdullah bin Abdul al-Saud, King of Saudi Arabia, derived his authority from tradition.

Rational-Legal Authority

Rational-legal authority is a form of leadership in which authority is largely tied to legal rationality, legal legitimacy, and bureaucracy.

Learning Objectives

Recall the three characteristics of the modern state, according to Weber

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Unlike charismatic authority and traditional authority, rational-legal authority derives its powers from the system of bureaucracy and legality.
  • Weber defined legal order as a system wherein the rules are enacted and obeyed as legitimate because they are in line with other laws on how they can be enacted and how they should be obeyed.
  • The modern state based on rational-legal authority emerged from the patrimonial and feudal struggle for power uniquely in Western civilization.
  • A modern state exists where a political community has created an administrative and legal order, binding authority over citizens, and the legitimate use of physical force.

Key Terms

  • authority: The power to enforce rules or give orders.
  • legal order: A system where the rules are enacted and obeyed as legitimate because they are in line with other laws on how they can be enacted and how they should be obeyed. Further, they are enforced by a government that monopolizes their enactment and the legitimate use of physical force.
  • bureaucracy: Structure and regulations in place to control activity. Usually in large organizations and government operations.
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Max Weber: Max Weber and Wilhelm Dilthey introduced verstehen—understanding behaviors—as goal of sociology.

Rational-legal authority is a form of leadership in which the authority of an organization or a ruling regime is largely tied to legal rationality, legal legitimacy, and bureaucracy. It is the second of Max Weber ‘s tripartite classification of authority. The majority of the modern states of the twentieth century are rational-legal authorities, according to those who use this form of classification.

Unlike charismatic authority and traditional authority, rational-legal authority derives its powers from the system of bureaucracy and legality. Weber defined legal order as a system wherein the rules are enacted and obeyed as legitimate because they are in line with other laws on how they can be enacted and how they should be obeyed. These rules are enforced by a government that monopolizes their enactment, while holding the legitimate use of physical force.

Weber wrote that the modern state based on rational-legal authority emerged from the patrimonial and feudal struggle for power uniquely in Western civilization. The prerequisites for the modern Western state are the monopoly by a central authority of the means of administration and control; the monopoly of legislative authority; and the organization of officialdom, dependent upon the central authority.

According to Max Weber, a modern state exists where a political community has three elements. First, an administrative and legal order that has been created and can be changed by legislation that also determines its role. Second, it must have binding authority over citizens and actions in its jurisdiction. Lastly, it must possess the right to legitimately use the physical force in its jurisdiction.

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A FEMA Employee Fills Out Paperwork: Ration-legal authority depends on routinized administration, which often involves a lot of paperwork.

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President Barack Obama: Barack Obama, President of the United States, derives his authority from a rational-legal system of laws outlined in a formal document, the Constitution of the United States of America.

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Max Weber on Rational-Legal Authority: According to Weber, rational-legal authority is a form of leadership in which the authority of an organization or a ruling regime is largely tied to legal rationality, legal legitimacy, and bureaucracy.

Charismatic Authority

Charismatic authority is power legitimized by a leader’s exceptional personal qualities, which inspire loyalty and obedience from followers.

Learning Objectives

Create a model of a hypothetical charismatic leader in a hypothetical government which describes the charisma and explains in detail how it is legitimized, used, and maintained

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • For Weber, charisma applies to “a certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural powers “.
  • In contrast to the current popular use of the term charismatic leader, Weber saw charismatic authority not so much as character traits of the charismatic leader, but as a relationship between the leader and his followers.
  • A cult of personality refers to when an individual uses mass media, propaganda, or other methods to create an idealized and heroic public image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise.
  • The methods of charismatic succession are search, revelation, designation by original leader, designation by qualified staff, hereditary charisma, and office charisma.

Key Terms

  • routinization: Charismatic authority almost always endangers the boundaries set by traditional or rational (legal) authority. It tends to challenge this authority, and is thus often seen as revolutionary. Usually this charismatic authority is incorporated into society. Hereby the challenge that it presents to society will subside. The way in which this happens is called routinization.
  • cult of personality: A situation where a leader (often a dictator) has been falsely idolized and made into a national or group icon and is revered as a result.
  • revelation: A manifestation of divine truth.

Charismatic authority is one of three forms of authority laid out in Max Weber’s tripartite classification of authority. Weber defined charismatic authority as “resting on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him”.

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Max Weber: Weber defined charismatic authority as “resting on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him.”

Charismatic authority is power legitimized on the basis of a leader’s exceptional personal qualities, or the demonstration of extraordinary insight and accomplishment, which inspire loyalty and obedience from followers. In contrast to the current popular use of the term charismatic leader, Weber saw charismatic authority not so much as character traits of the charismatic leader but as a relationship between the leader and his followers. For Weber, charisma applies to “a certain quality of an individual personality, by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary men and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. ”

Charismatic authority almost always evolves in the context of boundaries set by traditional or rational-legal authority, but by its nature tends to challenge this authority, and is thus often seen as revolutionary. However, the constant challenge that charismatic authority presents to a particular society will eventually subside as it is incorporated into that society through routinization. Routinization is the process by which “charismatic authority is succeeded by a bureaucracy controlled by a rationally established authority or by a combination of traditional and bureaucratic authority. ”

In politics, charismatic rule is often found in various authoritarian states, autocracies, dictatorships, and theocracies. In order to help to maintain their charismatic authority, such regimes will often establish a vast cult of personality, which is signaled when an individual uses mass media, propaganda, or other methods to create an idealized and heroic public image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise. When the leader of such a state dies or leaves office and a new charismatic leader does not appear, such a regime is likely to fall shortly thereafter unless it has become fully routinized.

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Lenin, a charismatic leader: Bolshevik political cartoon poster from 1920 depicting Lenin sweeping away monarchists and capitalists; the caption reads, “Comrade Lenin Cleanses the Earth of Filth.”

According to Max Weber, the methods of charismatic succession are search, revelation, designation by original leader, designation by qualified staff, hereditary charisma, and office charisma. These are the various ways in which an individual and a society can contrive to maintain the unique energy and nature of charisma in their leadership.

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Mussolini and Hitler: According to Weber, charismatic leaders gain authority not because they are necessarily kind, but because they are seen as superhuman.

The Transfer of Authority

In the United States, transfers of authority generally occur after presidential elections.

Learning Objectives

Compare presidential transitions with transitional justice using real-life examples

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • A presidential transition refers to the period of time between the end of a presidential election and the inauguration of a new president.
  • In the United States, during a presidential transition, the outgoing, “lame duck” president has lost many of the intangible benefits of a presidency, but the incoming president-elect is not yet legally empowered to enforce policy.
  • Transitional justice refers to a range of efforts, on the part of the state, to address past human rights violations. These efforts include both judicial and non-judicial methods.
  • In the context of transitional justice, memorialization is used to honor the victims of human rights abuses.

Key Terms

  • president-elect: a person who has been elected to a presidency but has not yet been inducted into office
  • transitional justice: Transitional justice generally refers to a range of approaches that states may use to address past human rights violations. This includes both judicial and non-judicial approaches.
  • Presidential transition: A presidential transition or presidential interregnum refers to the period of time between the end of a presidential election and the inauguration of a new president.

Presidential Transitions

A presidential transition refers to the period of time between the end of a presidential election and the inauguration of a new president. During this time, the incoming president usually designates new governmental personnel, including those individuals who will either serve in the cabinet or lead governmental agencies.

In the United States, the presidential transition extends from the date of the presidential election, in early November, until the twentieth day of January in the following year. This was specified in the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution. During a presidential transition, the outgoing president, also known as the “lame duck,” has lost many of the intangible benefits of a presidency. That being said, the incoming president-elect is not yet legally empowered to enforce policy. This ambiguity, between the president-elect and outgoing president, creates the potential for a leadership vacuum, which may be most acutely felt during wartime or times of economic crisis.

Transitional Justice

In other nations, many of which have experienced undemocratic governments and dictators, transitional justice refers to a state’s efforts to address past human rights violations. These efforts can be both judicial and non-judicial, and refer to actions, policies or institutions that are enacted at a point of political transition from violence or repression to societal stability. As a project, transitional justice has a number of goals, including rebuilding social trust, repairing a fractured judicial system, and building a democratic system of governance.

In the context of transitional justice, memorialization is used to honor the victims of human rights abuses. By demonstrating respect and acknowledging the past, national memorials can help governments reconcile tensions with victims. They can also help to establish a record of history and to prevent the recurrence of abuse.

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Presidential Inauguration, 2005: In the United States, elaborate inauguration ceremonies mark the transfer of authority.