Political sociology  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Political sociology is the study of power and the intersection of personality, social structure and politics. Political sociology is interdisciplinary, where political science and sociology intersect. The discipline uses comparative history to analyze systems of government and economic organization to understand the political climate of societies. By comparing and analyzing history and sociological data, political trends and patterns emerge. The founders of political sociology were Max Weber (Germany) and Moisey Ostrogorsky (Russia).

There are four main areas of research focus in contemporary political sociology:

  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 politics, and
  4. Power relationships within and between social groups (e.g. families, workplaces, bureaucracy, media, etc).

The field also looks at how major social trends can affect the political process, as well as exploring how various social forces work together to change political policies. Political sociologists apply several theories to substantive issues. Each theory claims to be comprehensive, but actually has few areas of strength because it was developed to address specific issues and operates at only one level of analysis.

Three major theoretical frameworks are pluralism, elite or managerial theory and class analysis which overlaps with Marxist analysis. Pluralism sees politics primarily as a contest among competing interest groups. A leading representative is Robert Dahl. Elite or managerial theory is sometimes called a state-centered approach. It explains what the state does by looking at constraints from organizational structure, semiautonomous 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. The theory emerged from Marxism in the 1850s based primarily on the premise of economic exploitation of one class by another. It 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 how the very way a capitalist economy operates only allows and encourages the state to do some things but not others. Its best known representative was Nicos Poulantzas. Important innovations in the field come from the French Pragmatism and particularly from the Political and Moral Sociology elaborated by Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot

See also

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