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definition - Political sociology

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political sociology (n.)


Political sociology


Contemporary political sociology involves, but is not limited to, the study of the relations between state and society.[1] Where a typical research question in political sociology might have been: "Why do so few American citizens choose to vote?"[2] or even, "What difference does it make if women get elected?" [3] political sociologists also now ask: "How is the body a site of power?",[4] "How are emotions relevant to global poverty?" [5] or "What difference does knowledge make to democracy?" [6]

The opening up of political sociology does not mean that old topics have been discarded. Traditionally there were four main areas of research:

  1. The socio-political formation of the modern state;
  2. "Who rules"? How social inequality between groups (class, race, gender, etc.) influences politics;[7]
  3. How public personalities, social movements and trends outside of the formal institutions of political power affect formal politics;
  4. Power relationships within and between social groups (e.g. families, workplaces, bureaucracy, media, etc.).[8]

In other words, political sociology was traditionally concerned with how social trends, dynamics, and structures of domination affect formal political processes, as well as exploring how various social forces work together to change political policies.[9] From this perspective we can identify three major theoretical frameworks: pluralism, elite or managerial theory, and class analysis (which overlaps with Marxist analysis).[10] Pluralism sees politics primarily as a contest among competing interest groups. Elite or managerial theory is sometimes called a state-centered approach. It explains what the state does by looking at constraints from organizational structure, semi-autonomous state managers, and interests that arise from the state as a unique, power concentrating organization. A leading representative is Theda Skocpol. Social class theory analysis emphasizes the political power of capitalist elites.[11] It can be split into two parts. One is the 'power structure' or 'instrumentalist' approach, another is the structuralist approach. The power structure approach focuses on 'Who Rules?' and its most well-known representative is G. William Domhoff. The structuralist approach emphasizes on the way a capitalist economy operates; only allowing and encouraging the state to do some things but not others (Nicos Poulantzas, Bob Jessop).

Contemporary political sociology takes these questions seriously, but it 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 organising, and the relative weakening of the state as a result of globalization. In large part, however, it is due to the radical rethinking of social theory. This is as much focused now on micro questions (such as the formation of identity through social interaction, the politics of knowledge, and the effects of the contestation of meaning on structures), as it is on macro questions (such as how to capture and use state power). Chief influences here include cultural studies (Stuart Hall), post-structuralism (Michel Foucault, Judith Butler), pragmatism (Luc Boltanski), structuration theory (Anthony Giddens), and cultural sociology (Jeffrey C. Alexander).


  1. ^ K. Nash (2010) Contemporary Political Sociology Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell http://books.google.com/books?id=LWwBN3rUrO4C&printsec=frontcover&dq=contemporary+political+sociology&hl=en&ei=JJmETpKlBcSw8QP0gqlW&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CDEQ6AEwAA#v=one
  2. ^ Piven, F. (1988) Why Americans Don't Vote: And Why Politicians Want it That Way Pantheon. ISBN 0-679-72318-8
  3. ^ A. Phillips (1991) Engendering Democracy, Cambridge, Polity http://books.google.com/books?id=x7EUAQAAIAAJ&q=engendering+democracy&dq=engendering+democracy&hl=en&ei=75mETvy8Nsmi8QPG9pxf&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCwQ6AEwAA
  4. ^ R. Sassatelli (2011) 'Body Politics' in E. Amenta, K. Nash and A. Scott (eds) The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Political Sociology, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell
  5. ^ K. Nash (2008) 'Global citizenship as show business: the cultural politics of Make Poverty History' Media, Culture and Society 30/1 http://eprints.gold.ac.uk/94/
  6. ^ B. De Sousa Santos et al. (2007) Another Knowledge Is Possible: Beyond Northern Epistemologies (Reinventing Social Emancipation: Toward New Manifestos), London: Verso http://books.google.com/books?id=2yO5AAAAIAAJ&q=another+knowledge+is+possible&dq=another+knowledge+is+possible&hl=en&ei=mJqETo-IE8iV8QO60PE-&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCwQ6AEwA
  7. ^ Domhoff G. William. Power Structure Research and the hope for Democracy. Adam Schneider,April.2005.Web Retrieved 29 Sept.2009 from <http://www.polycola.com/search.php?stypes=&eng1=yahoo&eng2=google&st=Web&q=three+major+theoretical+frameworks+are+elite+pluralism+and+managerial+theory.>
  8. ^ Buzzell,Timothy, Betty A. Dobratz,and Lisa K. Waldner."The Politics of Social Inequality."14 Mar. 2001 Web. 29 Sept 2009 From:<http://books.emeraldinsight.com/display.asp?K=9780762307562>
  9. ^ Nachtigal M. Paul."Political Trends Affecting Nonmetropolitan America." Journal of Research in Rural Education Vol.10(1994):161-166.Print. From:http://www.jrre.psu.edu/articles/v10,n3,p161-166,Nachtigal.pdf
  10. ^ Bentley,Peter,Arnold Rose,Talcott Parsons,and Neil Smelser. "Political Sociological Theories:Theories of the State and Power." 16 Jan.2003.Web.28 Sept 2009 from:<http://stmarys.ca/~evanderveen/wvdv/political_sociology/political_sociological_theories.htm>
  11. ^ Lewis A. Coser.Masters of sociological Thought.Class Theory 1977:48-50 Web. Retrieved 29 Sept 2009 from <http://www.polycola.com/search.php?stypes=&eng1=yahoo&eng2=google&st=Web&q=social+class+theory+emerged+when>

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