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What is Political Sociology?

By Brian Wolak
Updated May 17, 2024
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Political sociology is a division of the social sciences that focuses on political groups and leadership within society. More generally, it is the study of the relationship between politics and society. While there is debate as to the precise nature of the discipline’s proper focus, most experts agree that the idea of power — i.e., who holds, wields, achieves, and seeks power, particularly within the state and/or civil society — is a fundamental concern of political sociology.

The relationship between the state and civil society is often seen as a key point of study because of the constant interplay and power struggle between the two groups. In general, the concept of the state takes the form of government and centralized power, most often denoted by its militarized and legislative authority, while civil society often refers to organizations such as businesses, churches, and unions. Also of consideration is the role of the individual and the concept and interplay of power between the state and civil society.

The principal theories within political sociology include social class theory, elite theory, and pluralism. Social class theory is often associated with Marxist theory, in which power is examined in terms of which societal class controls the prevailing means of economic production. Elite theory is a theory in which power is viewed as being concentrated in elite groups and societies. In pluralism, power is seen to be spread and shared throughout society and institutions.

The term political sociology first appeared in print in 1905 in a book review of Alleyne Ireland's "The Far Eastern Tropics." Its roots stretch into the nineteenth century, however, where its founders are generally recognized to be Moisey Ostrogorsky and Max Weber. Ostrogorsky was a Belorussian political scientist and sociologist renowned for his theories on party systems and political parties. Weber was a German historian, sociologist, and political economist known for his influence on social theory.

In addition, because of his intensive investigations into socioeconomic systems and class struggles, Karl Marx is often linked to political sociology particularly in terms of his theory of economic determinism. Political sociology as a field of study in the United States peaked in the 1960s and 1970s. Today, concentrations in sociology tend toward the study of minorities, sex, and gender.

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Discussion Comments
By cupcake15 — On Nov 17, 2010

Moldova- When people study political sociology topics they always have to separate the theory from the practical realities.

In theory, the idea of trying to create a society in which everyone is equal might sound noble until you realize that this is impossible, because we are all individuals with different levels of drive and ambition.

In addition leaders in societies like this are the only ones that actually benefit. They usually do not participate in this economic experiment.

A well known book on the subject is "The Handbook of Political Theories" by Thomas Janoski. This book is the handbook of political sociology that explores international political sociology with respect to globalization. It also explores topics pertaining to regimes, transitions, race, feminism, and the welfare state.

By Moldova — On Nov 17, 2010

Subway11- I know, in fact in Cuba, sociology and politics can not be separated because it is a communist society that is built on Marxist principles of confiscating all possessions in order to eliminate greed and create a more egalitarian society.

However, this line of thinking has destroyed the work ethic in the average Cuban worker because enjoying the fruits of his labor is part of what makes us work harder and achieve success.

The inner drive that we experience when working hard is destroyed when all of that effort goes to the government.

It would be the equivalent of children that spent the day trick or treating and had a bagful of candy, but had to give up all of the candy and only got to keep one out of 1,000 candies.

It would be unlikely that this child would ever want to trick or treat again.

This is what happened to the Cuban people which is why their economy is in drastic decline so much so that Raul Castro actually went on the record to say that communism does not work and that he was laying off thousands of government workers.

By subway11 — On Nov 17, 2010

Political science and sociology are often linked. Usually one’s political beliefs are shaped based on the views on sociology politics.

A theory among Marxist or those that follow social class theory feel that elimination of the social classes and creating a collectivism society benefits the most people.

This theory is focused on political economy sociology and often resorts to class warfare to make their point.

This can be seen when Democrats opt to raise taxes on what they classify as rich or resort to raising taxes on businesses that they deem are "profitable enough" such as oil companies like Exxon.

The problem with this line of thinking is that there is no accountability for one’s individual actions and those that are successful are targeted and despised as “Taking advantage” of the others in society.

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