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Social Sci LibreTexts

15.1A: Politics

  • Page ID
    8420
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    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.