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The Traditional Political Sociology Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2441 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In order to fully explore and analyse the context in question, we must firstly grasp the nature of ‘sociology.’ This branch of thought was discovered by Auguste Comte defining sociology as simply the ‘study of society, but in practice it is the study of society in a particular view point.’ (Nelson 1971 pg1) Furthermore the study of sociology has been revolutionary in how we now observe society and the various governmental institutions it interacts with. I will firstly explain what political sociology is in more depth and examine why it differs from the standard branch of sociology. This will then lead me onto the main question at hand, by exhibiting the various main classical ideological approaches to the state thus exploring areas such as the Marxist view of an oppressive capitalist regime or Gramsci’s view of rule by manipulation. Thirdly, I will look to deconstruct these theses and compare them to more recent ideologies, such as the new post-modernist approach including new social movements which will critique traditionalist theories’. Lastly I attempt to sum up my points made within this essay, and conclude on which ideological strand has made the most accurate understanding to the relationship between the state and its people.

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Political Sociology is a division of social sciences’ that seeks to study ‘the independent power relationship between the state and civil society.’ (Faulks, 1999, pg2) This branch of social science is important in terms of understanding the bases of mutual interaction of government and its citizens, as the state usually takes the central governing body consisting of legal and military power. Whereas its citizens and society are more subordinate consisting of institutions such as unions. Societies are shaped by states and states are shaped by societies, this main focus is on power and this ‘power’ is defined on its ability to achieve its goal over the objection of the ‘others.’ It is concerned with problems regarding administration of conflict, political integration and the interdependence of cultural and political elements.

Karl Marx is maybe one of the most important sociologists to date. He is also as equally important in the sphere of political sociology, being recognised as one of the founding fathers to this social science. Both Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels wrote two very original theses’ on the state, consisting of a structuralism approach examining the whole of society. Without their analysis of the state, both as an empirical object of investigation but also a problem, this class analytical approach would not have been addressed. Firstly Marx denies Hegel’s argument that the state can reconcile the conflicts within civil society, as he saw the state being based solely on inequalities, which derive from various aspects of life such as social class, even the ownership of private property. Marx and Engels see power arising out of the social relations of production, these are the foundations of all capitalist societies. In order to gain power the dominant class must use the state as a tool which can be used to preserve their private property and also impose order through their aggressive manipulation. Marx’s traditionalist approach portrays an extremely negative relationship between the state and its people not just on the scale of wealth but also socially in a sense that the capitalist class see the proletariats as nothing more than mere resource for labour or as Marx describes “the primitive accumulation of capital.” (Marx 1887 pg500) Karl Marx’s view on the relationship of the state would lead on to him writing his political sociological masterpiece the ‘communist manifesto’ written during the industrial revolution of the 18th centenary. He witnessed the ruling class dominate the working class by cheap wages to solely peruse maximum financial gain. At this time exploitation was obvious between the “Bourgeoisie and the proletariat or capitalists and the landless wage workers” (Bilton 

et al, 1996, pg142). Marx saw the only feasible way to overcome these inequalities is true ‘communism’ where the proletariats’ must become the ruling class this would be through the use of coercion. In short Marxist anchors their analysis on the state in terms of its structural relationship to capitalism as a system of class inequality.

With the failure of Marx’s work to predict the triumph of capitalism, Neo Marxism branch began on updating Marx’s theory adapting it to modern day political phenomenon. This strand of ideology shares some of Marx’s original thesis however it articulates some new and bold points. Firstly philosopher Antonio Gramsci ‘is innovative in Marxism in not thinking of the state as the institution in which politics takes place.’ (Nash 2010 pg 7) And focusing on the state tool used by the bourgeoisie ideology called ‘hegemony’. Hegemony according to Gramsci is the cultural dominant class fundamentally changing the outlook on the whole of society. Authority uses respected superstructures of society to transmit their ideology to the masses which is accepted as the norm and as natural in society. With this sense of natural society the masses give consent to active control of their lives, without questioning the restrictions that are being placed on them. Furthermore with the world being shown in such a limited view by authority, it allows for governments to outline ‘deviant and unruly behaviour’ which are a supposedly a danger to the stability of government and the general consensus in life, the masses now have a decision to question whether they are part of the consensus or if they are the deviants who threaten individuals liberties. It seems that the relationship in Gramsci’s theory is all relations in society are based on conflict and for the battle of power. This remains similar to classical Marxist theory as he states that there is still a class conflict. However Gramsci does leave the idea of Marxism behind as he is rejecting economic determinism of the state. Continuing with the Neo Marxist approach of political sociology the work of Althusser was more of an adaption to traditional Marxism rather than Gramsci’s shift to a new paradigm. He remained clear that economism was an inevitable prospect in a society of inequality.

The second main approach to the state and its citizens is the work of Max Weber which holds a pluralist approach but it is also an extension of Marx’s’ work, in a sense that only a selected elite rule the majority. Weber’s gives the ‘definition of the state as a human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory. (Weber 1946) Power from Weber’s perspective is a finite resource where some possess power, while others do not. He refers to bureaucracies as instruments that can rationalize authority for society.In a general sense this power relationship refers’ to an ability to influence individuals and its citizens’. Secondly Weber saw that this imposing power would result in negative consequences, for instances it would involve the repressions of groups and constrain individual liberties. The starting point of Weber’s political analysis is the two main strands of power which firstly is the power of legitimate authority where society allows for the authority to govern over society giving order and laws which they accept as natural and legal. Next is the authority by force, militia or cohesion this is use of force, since power is seen as a quality of social relationships.

Where the weberian theory differs from the Marxism approach is their contrasting opinions about the sources of power in every society. For example if the power derives from holding the monopoly of resources but through Weber’s is aware that this power is not seen to be once and for all phenomenon. As we can see by Weber’s proposal of the state we can see that this exercise of power does not just affect people, relationships but can also create the conflict of ideas which on its self creates a negative view on society.

Since the early 1980s, political sociology has moved to include the unique and powerful perspectives of Michel Foucault. Foucault’s theory began life as a critical reflection to the Marxist approach seeing it has an inability to offer a history of truth. As a post structuralist approach it rejects the social structure of power being individual to society. Foucault is less concerned with an oppressive aspect of power, but is more interested with the way in which power circulates, for instances power can be understood as its ability to force it’s will over others. “According to Foucault, to think of power in this way is to miss how it works in institutions and discourses across the social field. Foucault is concerned to analyse power in the details of social practices, at the points at which it produces effects, as a ¬‚uid power.” (Nash, 2010, pp. 21) Foucault sees power as not just a possession which can be owned but, a mechanism for which it has functions, for instances organising a chain of power. Furthermore individuals are the catalyst of this power. This way of understanding society perfectly portrays the relationship between us and the state because the circulation of power directly contradicts the Marxist approach as power is not simply oppression. As Foucault see’s with any kind of authority whether it is legitimate or force there will always be some who will resist its power, meaning power relations are not merely master and slavery relationships, but are productive power relationships. To conclude on Foucault thesis of the state and its people, he doesn’t minimize the liberties on society seeing we are not powerless to institutions of the state. But believes that this power is not concentrated to one area but it is diffused into the whole of society creating an expansive power regime. The state and society is a volatile and is susceptible to a divided/contested society, where power must be firmly replenished and regenerated regularly.

Lastly with these traditionalist theories there are of course their critics, who dismiss the claims of these ideologies on the basis that they are inadequate or missing vital points. Abercrombie et al in 1980 set three clear points why this idea of ‘ruling Hegemony’ does not encapsulate our society. Firstly our capitalist system today is dominated by fierce competition between trans/multinational businesses or state & economic organisations, this clear cut money driven approach disregards the idea that the bourgeoisie cause conflict. Secondly now in today’s age, material possession and lifestyle counts for a great deal, he states that it is not the fact that ideological hegemony has taken over society. It is merely the fact that the fear of poverty and unemployment is such a deterrent that we conform to stay afloat. Lastly Abercrombie et al see’s the majority of people see the exploitation of the upper classes and will actively join a resistance through strikes and protests. This post modernist approach critique traditionalist approaches as they emphasise that times have changed, and the basis of government in recent years have become more intertwined and open about governmental decisions within society. This is evident to the present Prime Minister David Cameron who advocates the “Big society is my mission” (BBC News 2012) where government are becoming more in twinned into society. ‘New’ political theory has moved away from the ‘old’ political sociology which was only concerned with the state/classed centred societies this paradigm shift has allowed for movements’ such as ‘cultural politics’ to be explored in more detail. This micro level of study has paved way for various theoretical groups to access the state and certain groups of society for example the rise of the feminist branch

In conclusion political sociology consists of many differing paradigms which embody many different speculations on the state. These traditionalist approaches are indeed very important as without them; would we ever have questioned the role of the state? Approaches such as Marx’s theory have been debated for centauries and will still be discussed in the many years to follow. Traditionalist approaches left a broad overview of the state and society allowing other theories to contest or adopt them. Political sociology has been an apparatus that has enabled us to analyze the relationship between the distribution of power and the network of people. This study has allowed knowledge that there is always an alternative version of power which can be pushed for at anytime, allowing for us and the state to know where we stand. However it seems that the ‘new’ approaches are now becoming most relevant in regards to social relations today in this modern day world. I feel that due to globalization these ‘new’ theories have allowed to disprove traditionalist approaches, on the ground that it had not predicted the new approach of government. Lastly they have adopted new emerging attitudes of today’s society for example protests and strikes are becoming more widely used to tip the balance of power in their favour which feminists only know too well with the protests of the radical 60’s movement to liberate women.

Weber, Max. 1946. “Politics as a Vocation”, in H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, eds. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, Oxford University Press



Karl Marx, Das Kapital, Vol. 1, chapter 26 pg 500 1887 progress publishers, Moscow, USSR

Bilton & Colleagues (1996) Introductory Sociology, Hampshire: 

Macmillan Press Ltd 


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