“Politics,” in its most common usage, refers to the activities of governance, including efforts to attain or retain the power to control those activities. In this sense, the term refers to an interest in how the state (the regulating structures and governing practices of the nation) works and under what or whose authority. This understanding of “politics” is clearly present in both American studies and cultural studies, most markedly in the work of political scientists and legal scholars. However, both fields have long had a broader interest in how and with what consequences the power to govern operates. How and why are resources distributed as they are, and to the benefit or disadvantage of which populations? Who gets to be represented in and who is excluded from participation in governance? What ideas and institutions legitimize the exercise of authority, and how can existing practices and structures be transformed? In what ways do cultural products and practices shape the relationship of individuals and groups to power and authority? How is life itself regulated as a matter of power and authority? Answers to these questions draw on a different meaning of the term “politics,” one that stresses contestation over the power to...

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