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Focus Areas of Political Sociology
Two distinct areas of focus are there in political sociology. One area is concerned with the social basis of power in all institutional sectors of society. In this line of enquiry, the social stratification is studied for its role in organized politics. The second area focuses on the organizational analysis of political groups and political leadership. This focus gives rise to the study of both formal and informal party organization, and its linkages to the governmental bureaucracy, the legal system, interest groups, and the electorate at large. This approach is termed as institutional or organizational point of view in political sociology.
Social Stratification and Emergence of Political System and the Group Holding Power - Karl Marx
Karl Marx's conclusion is that social stratification is the result of the social relations generated by the mode of production. It is Marx’s view that the political system derives from the pattern of social stratification.
Political scientists and sociologists pointed out that Marx's theory fails to consider the consequences of differing types of political institutions on societal change. It does not study the role of individuals and groups in developing appropriate political institutions and their durability or longevity.
Distinct Political System and Institutions - Max Weber
As a sociologist, Weber agreed with Marx, that social structure as a basis for analyzing politics. But according to Weber, social stratification is the result of economic position and social status—prestige and honor. In his essay “Class, Status, Party” (1921), Weber postulated that there is a historical process going on that separating political institutions from economic and social structure. Political institutions are therefore worthy of direct sociological inquiry as an independent source of societal change.
Social Stratification and Political System - Further Development
The social stratification based political system theory has seen the emergence “interest group” theories. Political competition and conflict reflects the demands of specific interest groups—economic, professional, organizational, and even ethnic–religious. The governmental bureaucracy and the political parties have emerged as new strata and there are also now elements in the theory of interest groups.
At the empirical level, studies derived from a social stratification theory of politics have been characterized by a progressive refinement of categories of analysis based on more refined measures of social status. Based on analysis of voting statistics and sample surveys, political party affiliation and voting behavior of the electorate is clustered to find differences in political behavior of social strata. In the multiple-party election systems prevalent in large number of countries, sample surveys have been utilized to describe voting behavior in terms of such variables as occupation, income, education, status, ethnicity, and religion. Empirical work has been done on the relevance of personality and social-psychological variables for understanding voting patterns. But, these empirical researches are limited to election decisions. Still, they have not probed issues like party membership and funding, which are also important political outcome variables.
The empirical studies have supported the view that advanced industrialism produces a “middle-majority” politics. “Middle-majority politics” implies the decline of clearly identified working and middle classes with working class as the dominant or majority group and the emergence of a less differentiated social group. The gap between the working class and the middle class is declining, and the political process is developing into pragmatic bargaining over specific issues instead of straight class conflict (Lipset, 1960). These stratification theories give less emphasis to the impact of foreign affairs on the political orientations of the electorate.
Systematic research into political opinion gives deeper meaning to studies of political behavior and political participation. The techniques of opinion measurement enables the measurement of the attitude structure existing in the relevant society group toward specific political issues, political candidates, and political institutions. These studies focus on the detailed identification of those parts of the social structure which are characterized as active political orientation, absence of political orientation, weak political orientation, politically active in only to very specific interests and issues etc. Political apathy has been found to be concentrated in lower-income groups and it is wide spread even in other higher income groups and even in people with high levels of educational attainment. In one sense, these findings drive home the point that man is not a political animal, a view that has long been recognized as valid by most political leaders as well as religious leaders.
The concept of alienation, focuses on understanding the social and psychological processes which produce a withdrawal or disengagement from political interest and political participation. Political apathy appears to include both alienation and socially inherited disinterest in politics. Available research highlights the social groups particularly vulnerable to alienation, such as youth, minorities, and intellectuals. Some studies point out that alienation and apathy is not a “steady state” but an orientation which can gradually or suddenly be reversed and produce direct intervention in political process in the form of protest movements. Some new political groups emerge out of these protest movements.
The opinion measurement leads to the identification and analysis of popular ideologies. Political “Ideology” is a comprehensive, rigidly held, and explicit political belief system or “world view.”
“Political socialization” refers to the process of internalization of political values, including the impact of the family and educational institutions. Under conditions of rapid social change, the relevance of initial socialization variables in explaining mass political perspectives must be amplified by an understanding of the impact of education and involvement in secondary associations.
Empirical studies of election campaigns reveal that limited shifts in political attitudes and in actual voting behavior take place in a given election campaign. But this limited amount of change is clearly crucial in determining the outcome. The research literature supports the proposition that long-term political socialization has greater impact than the communication blitz in a given political campaign. Both long-term and short-term mass media communicatino and party organization are key variables in both maintaining and molding political opinions. The notion of “the politics of mass society” (Kornhauser 1959) proposes that community and associational affiliations are getting weak in determiniing political decisions of individuals and activities of the party organizations and the mass media communications are getting stronger.
Political Institutions - Political Parties
Gaetano Mosca (1896) and Robert Michels (1911) served as central figures in stimulating empirical studies of elites in the sociology of political organization. Political parties and their auxiliary institutions have been subject to various forms of empirical analysis. Typologies of party organization have been created, using such categories as “patronage,” “ideological,” “programmatic.” The writings of the University of Chicago empirical school of political research, which included Charles Merriam, Harold Lasswell, and Harold Gosnell and which in turn came to be called political behavior research, were crucial in study of party organizations (Gosnell 1927; Lasswell 1936). These studies focused on the effectiveness of differing types of party organization on the performance of such activities as the recruitment of new leaders, the posing of political alternatives, the maintenance of linkages between the electorate and the government bureaucracy, the mobilization of mass political participation, and the formulation of consent. The literature has many detailed case studies of political parties and covers a wide range of political systems. Comparative analysis mainly takes the form of paired comparisons (as between, for example, the United States and the Soviet Union). Efforts to study the dilemmas facing similar groups of nations, such as the developing nations are also made.
In some studies, the focal issue is the capacity of the economic and industrial sector to influence and control political decisions. There seems to be widespread agreement among political sociologists that, with the growth of a complex division of labor, industrial and economic organizations are constricted in their capacity for direct management of the political process. The economic leaders do not have the skills or programmatic approach to maintain complete dominance over the political party system, be it a single-party or a multiparty structure. The separation of ownership from property control contributes to this process. The development of trade union organizations often serves as a countervailing force to the political power of owners and managers of economic organization in those societies where labor unions are autonomous organizations. Institutional analysis also points to the growth of professional associations developing their ability to exercise political power in the name of both science and public welfare. Large governmental bureaucracies are also developing into important players in the political system.
Paralleling the role played by economic institutions is the role of the military. The military have considerable actual and potential power because of the vast resources they command and because of the fundamental importance of national security. Political sociologists have sought to describe and account for the various forms of political balance which operate between modern political parties and the military. There is hardly a society in which the military do not have some political power. The influence of the military varies from that of a pressure group to that of an active coalition partner in the domestic political structure.
There has been a growth of professional and voluntary associations that tend to accumulate political power, and these organizations have been studied, on a selective case study basis, as examples of pressure groups. The social structure of an industrial society or one in the process of modernization produces a variety of groups, such as old-age, youth, and ethnic, cultural, and religious associations, which generate political demands through their associational representatives. In a multiparty system these pressure groups seek direct access to the parliamentarians and administrative leaders and tend to weaken the party.
Modern elites tend increasingly to be selected by criteria of achievement rather than on the basis of inherited social background, and as a result they tend to be recruited from broader and broader social strata.
The literature of national power structures tends to focus on the analysis of specific elite groups. In particular, there are available a series of national studies in depth which deal with the recruitment and socialization of the parliamentary elites. In addition, attention has been paid on a comparative basis to the differing patterns of pressure groups, especially economic pressure groups, in influencing the political process.
In the analysis of the United States political system, the residues of economic determinism are to be found in C. Wright Mills’s “power elite” concept (1956), in which the political leadership is seen as a group of a capitalists whose actions and attitudes are transformed, in part, by the pressures of international relations. The leadership consists of people recruited from in the industrial/service and military sectors and the professional political elite. The economic elites are the dominant group and they fuse with the military, while the political elites have secondary and circumscribed roles.
By contrast, a variety of writers, including Robert Dahl, Talcott Parsons, Daniel Bell, and Morris Janowitz, identify a bargaining model in the United States, characterized by a more pluralistic pattern of political power. The elites are seen to be drawn from much more differentiated groups and subject to a system of countervailing checks and balances. In this approach, the basic political issue of interest is not so much the arbitrary exercise of power by a small, integrated elite as it is the necessity of creating conditions under which a differentiated elite can make effective decisions. In the United States, according to the analysis of Shils (1956) and others, elite integration presents special problems because the creative role of the politician is not adequately understood and the respect accorded him by the other elite sectors and by the electorate at large is relatively low and unstable.
Empirical research into elite structures has distinguished between local—community, metropolitan, and regional—elites and national elite systems. In the United States both the power elite concept and the bargaining model highlight the separation of economic power and political elites at the local level. A rich body of historical and analytical material describes the process of “bifurcation” of local elites in the United States. According to the power elite model, this is the result of a shift of political interest to the national arena; for the bargaining model, it is the outgrowth of the process of “democratization,” which brings representatives of ethnic, religious, and lower-status groups into political power.
Comparative Studies of Nations
Joseph Schumpeter, in Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (1942), developed a comprehensive and generic analysis of the social and political institutions on which capitalism was based. His ideas about the transformation of entrepreneurial activities into a large-scale organization format, the negative role of intellectuals in the politics of capitalism, and the decline of representative institutions have been seminal formulations.
The central issue in the study of new nations after independence hinges on the limitations and actual breakdown of multiparty systems in supplying the political leadership necessary for economic and social development. Scholarly writing in this area has passed from a focus on individual case studies to a variety of types of comparative analysis. One approach is that found in Edward Shils’s Political Development in the New States (1959–1960), where he presents a series of generalized governmental types, such as traditional oligarchies and modernizing oligarchies, and analyzes their political dilemmas. Gabriel A. Almond and James S. Coleman, in The Politics of the Developing Areas (1960), follow a similar approach, but they make use of statistical indicators to explain these types of political regimes. Alternatively, comparative analysis has been pursued by exploring specific hypotheses related to a particular institution, such as the governmental bureaucracy or economic enterprise. An example of this approach is Morris Janowitz’ The Military in the Political Development of New Nations (1964), in which the limitations on the capacity of the military to supply political leadership are in part accounted for in terms of internal organizational and professional factors.
A fully comprehensive approach to comparative political sociology must encompass the distinction between industrialized and nonindustrialized nations. Such work has been stimulated partly by the desire to make use of the data that are available and to produce quantitative comparisons and findings even though the problems of the validity of international statistical sources and the comparability of survey findings have not been solved. Karl Deutsch and his associates are representative of the efforts to uncover patterns of political behavior through refined statistical analysis of the standard census-type data for all the political divisions of the world. By contrast, more selectively and intensively, Almond and Verba (1963) have employed survey research techniques in countries of Europe and in Mexico to probe both political participation and socialization of fundamental political values.
The development of the “behavioral persuasion” in the study of politics does in fact encourage a focus on routine and ongoing processes, rather than on crises and decision-making points. But, there is a body of monographic literature which describes the outbreaks of political conflict—when the pursuit of group interest leads to action outside the institutionalized forms of political change. This type of phenomenological research has come to encompass the full range of politics, from community conflict to relations between nations. Social-psychological approaches derived from the study of collective behavior or collective problem solving have been employed to handle these empirical materials. The sources of political conflict and the means by which consensus is created are central issues for political sociologists.
Political Sociology's Role in Political Theory
It is only since the end of World War II, that some political sociologists have become interested in theoretical formulations which explore explicitly the conditions under which political democracy would be maximized. Political sociology has the goal of formulating social, psychological, and economic conditions under which political democracy would be maximized. Some theorists, as represented by Schumpeter, hold that elections are the hallmark of democratic society and that, therefore, the study of the election process is a key task of sociological research. Others, such as Robert Dahl and Charles Lindblom, are concerned with the formulation of criteria which encompass the practices of administrative and community agencies. Political sociology is also concerned with the analysis of the economic, social, and psychological preconditions for political democracy.
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Visit for References and Bibliography
Political Sociology: a New Grammar of Politics
By Ali Ashraf, L N Sharma
Political Sociology - Lecture Notes
Political Sociology - Introduction