Political Leadership: Themes, Contexts and Critiques

Michael Foley

Research output: Book/ReportBook


Political Leadership: Themes, Contexts and Critiques

As a term, leadership is a notoriously elusive and highly variable construct. At one and the same time, it is seen as both a ubiquitous element of organizational existence and a property that escapes precise definition because it exists in so many different forms. The study of leadership has tended to reflect its mercurial nature in that it has generated a host different approaches, methods and conceptual designs. In spite of the prodigious rise in leadership studies, the genre remains conspicuously deficient in attempts to draw together the different perspectives of the subject. Despite the increased volume of work on leadership, the subject tends to remain fractured across disciplinary traditions. As a consequence, the subject is marked by a mixture of high-end exposure and low-end explanation. This is particularly so in the field of political leadership which has been afflicted more than most by the diffusion of discrete studies, multiple approaches and situational contexts. More specifically, the subject of political leadership suffers from an enduring duality in which the material categories of individual political leaders coexist at a distance with a profusion of studies from other specialisms and disciplines that have some associated relevance to the issues of leadership generation and operation. The net effect is that the analysis of leadership is drawn increasingly away from its explicitly political role within the broader reaches of governance and society.

What has become a sprawling expanse of multidisciplinary studies into numerous subcategories and alleged derivatives of leadership has had the effect in many ways of inadvertently hollowing out the field’s political components and, thereby, its wider significance in respect to governing power and political conflict. This new and extended study into the field engages with the expansive range of empirical, theoretical and interpretive research into the issue of leadership but does so in a way that ensures that the political character of the subject is kept securely in the foreground. This current excursion into the field is therefore designed to maintain a clear emphasis upon leaders firmly embedded in their political contexts and viscerally connected to high level issues of political location and status, political power and legitimacy, and political functions and contingencies. The style is one in which the contents of leadership dynamics and developments within political matrices are given their due analytical weight while allowing for conceptually informed ways of accommodating the more systemic contributions from other sources.

The first section (chapters 2-5) focuses on the main elements and defining characteristics of the subject field. It surveys the problems and challenges entailed in fulfilling the requirements of political leadership, as well as in coming to terms with the nature of the contextual circumstances which condition the operational and behavioural dimensions of such a role. In locating the primary categories and dynamics of leadership it becomes possible not only to outline the contingent aspects of the subject but also to establish the relational features of its interior and exterior logics.

Section 2 (chapters 6-8) goes on to examine the variations and trends in the matrix of leadership politics. It directs attention to modes of leadership appeal and techniques of political communication; to emergent forms of representational claims and outreach obligations; and to shifts in leadership related political alignments and narratives.

The third section (chapters 9 and 10) engages with a dimension of leadership which at one and the same time gives full expression to its potential as an organising device but also coveys the expansive nature of its problematic and contingent properties – namely the sectors of foreign policy leadership and more generally the leadership opportunities and roles within the international sphere.

Chapter 11 examines the changing landscapes of contemporary leadership activity in respect to some of the more noteworthy recent developments that influence the formation of leadership positions, roles and responsibilities within increasingly changeable matrices of political engagement.

Chapter 12 reviews the aggregate components, themes and issues that have emerged from the previous sets of analysis and reviews the different ways of coming to terms with a subject field which is notorious for the number and diversity of its points of access, lines of interpretation and migrations of usage.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages416
ISBN (Print)9780199685936, 0199685932
Publication statusPublished - 14 Nov 2013


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