Sociological Terms - Scope and Topics - Political Sociology

Political Sociology

Historically political sociology concerned the relations between political organization and society. A typical research question in this area might be: "Why do so few American citizens choose to vote?" In this respect questions of political opinion formation brought about some of the pioneering uses of statistical survey research by Paul Lazarsfeld. A major subfield of political sociology developed in relation to such questions, which draws on comparative history to analyze socio-political trends. The field developed from the work of Max Weber and Moisey Ostrogorsky.

Contemporary political sociology includes these areas of research, but it has been opened up to wider questions of power and politics. Today political sociologists are as likely to be concerned with how identities are formed that contribute to structural domination by one group over another; the politics of who knows how and with what authority; and questions of how power is contested in social interactions in such a way as to bring about widespread cultural and social change. Such questions are more likely to be studied qualitatively. The study of social movements and their effects has been especially important in relation to these wider definitions of politics and power.

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Other articles related to "political, political sociology":

Hossein Bashiriyeh - Publications - Books
... Revolution and Political Mobilization, Tehran university Press, 1992 ... The Kingdom of Reason 10 essays in political philosophy and political sociology, Tehran new science Press, 1993 ... Political Sociology The Role of Social Forces in Political Life, Tehran Nay Publications 1996 ...
sociology" class="article_title_2">Political Sociology

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

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;
  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.).

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. From this perspective we can identify three major theoretical frameworks: pluralism, elite or managerial theory, and class analysis (which overlaps with Marxist analysis). 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. 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).

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