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Political sociology is the study of the relations between state and society.[1] The discipline draws on comparative history to analyze socio-political trends. A typical research question in this area might be: "Why do so few American citizens choose to vote?"[2] The field developed from the work of Max Weber and Moisey Ostrogorsky.[3]


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.[4]
  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).[5] Contemporary theorists include Robert A. Dahl, Seymour Martin Lipset, Theda Skocpol, Luc Boltanski and Nicos Poulantzas.

Political sociology 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.[6] Political sociologists apply several theories to substantive issues. Three major theoretical frameworks are pluralism, elite or managerial theory and class analysis which overlaps with Marxist analysis.[7] 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, 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.[8] 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.

Political sociology also concerns the play of power and personality, for instance, the impact of globalization upon identity: "The fragmentation and pluralization of values and life-styles, with the growth of mass media and consumerism and decline of stable occupations and communities, all means that previously taken for granted social identities have become politicized."[9]


  1. ^ Nash, Kate (2000). Contemporary Political Sociology. United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 1–3. ISBN 0631206612, 9780631206613.  
  2. ^ Piven, F. (1988) Why Americans Don't Vote: And Why Politicians Want it That Way Pantheon. ISBN 0679723188
  3. ^ Lipset, S.M. Introduction: Ostrogorski and the Analytical Approach to the Comparative Study of Political Parties in M. Ostrogorski, Democracy and the Organization of Political (2 vol, 1964; 1982 ed.)
  4. ^ Domhoff G. William. Power Structure Research and the hope for Democracy. Adam Schneider,April.2005.Web Retrieved 29 Sept.2009 from <>
  5. ^ Buzzell,Timothy, Betty A. Dobratz,and Lisa K. Waldner."The Politics of Social Inequality."14 Mar. 2001 Web. 29 Sept 2009 From:<>
  6. ^ Nachtigal M. Paul."Political Trends Affecting Nonmetropolitan America." Journal of Research in Rural Education Vol.10(1994):161-166.Print. From:,n3,p161-166,Nachtigal.pdf
  7. ^ 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:<>
  8. ^ Lewis A. Coser.Masters of sociological Thought.Class Theory 1977:48-50 Web. Retrieved 29 Sept 2009 from <>
  9. ^ Nash, Kate (2000). Contemporary Political Sociology. United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 2. ISBN 0631206612, 9780631206613.  

See also



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