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Politics and Society – Sociology


Politics and Society: Political sociology opens up a fresh perspective in the realm of political analysis. It delves into the intricate web of interactions and connections between society and politics, exploring the dynamic relationship between a political system and its broader social, economic, and cultural context. This field scrutinizes the dynamics of social power and places a spotlight on the political attitudes, values, and behaviors exhibited by individuals in diverse societies.

At its core, political sociology grapples with issues pertaining to the management of conflicts, the articulation of interests and concerns, as well as the intricacies of political integration and organization. Throughout these inquiries, the central focus remains on the interdependence and intricate interplay of socio-cultural, economic, and political elements.

Sociological Theories of Power

Power: Possession of control, authority or influence over others, a relationship in which an individual is able to exert influence over the mind and actions of others.

Max Weber: Opportunity existing within a social relationship which permits one to carry out one’s will even against resistance and regardless of the basis on which opportunity rests.

Amos Hawley: Every social act is an exercise of power, every social relationship is a power equation and every social group or a system is an organization of power.

Steven Lukes defined three manifestations of power:

  1. Decision making
  2. Non decision making (by giving limited preferences to chose)
  3. Shaping discussions (manipulating wishes and desires)

Basis of power: Wealth, status, knowledge, charisma, force, authority.

Features of power:

  • Structural aspect of social reality,
  • operates reciprocally but usually not equally reciprocally,
  • manifests itself in a relationship manner,
  • appears as a process not a fixed part of social structure,
  • power in inherent in social stratification,
  • it becomes basis of social stratification ex CW Mills.

Sources of Power: Legitimate (traditional, charisma, rational legal) illegitimate – force (violence, coercion).

Theories Of Power

Elite theory of power: developed by Italian sociologists Vilferado Pareto and Gaetano Mosca, only minority has talent/intelligence/ability/ leadership to occupy positions of power, minority influence govt decisions and gains it dominant position beyond general elections (democracy is utopia), elites hold power due to religious values, hereditary or certain personal qualities.


Marx: Power is distributed along class lines. Social rewards are cumulative, those who hold economic power also hold political power.

Weber: In a goal rational system of organisation the bureaucracy holds the most power due to their control over key positions.

Vilfredo Pareto

In his book Mind & Society proposed the Elite Theory of Power.

Human behaviour can be classified as logical and non-logical action. The non-logical part makes up most of our actions and it can be further sub classified as:

  • Residue: Instinctive tendencies in human beings left over from eons of evolutionary process. Ex. Gandhi has been called a masochist. They have further relevance for power in the forms of:
    • Combinations. (Have a tendency towards guile and manipulationFOXES
    • Persistence of aggregates. (Those who are strong and decisiveLIONS
  • Derivation: Rationalisation of residues. Ex. Satyagraha was rationalisation of Gandhi’s masochism.

According to Pareto, those who excel at combinations and persistence of aggregates are suited to rule. They form the ruling elite because of their personality. The two kinds of elite were named as Lions & Foxes. Governance calls for both capabilities. Lions may swoop in and capture power but in order to run the day to day functions of governance they need to recruit foxes from the masses. The lions get lax over time and the foxes by their guile overthrow them. This rule of foxes doesn’t last long either as lions swoop in again. Pareto called this the circulation of elite.

NOTEPopulism as a political doctrine can be seen as a counter to elite rule. However, elite can guide the social agenda and therefore also subsume populism within their ambit. Ex. Caesar as a patrician populares senator.

Gaetano Mosca

In his book Ruling Class he further developed the elite theory of power. There are always two classes, the rulers and the ruled. The rulers have the following characteristics:

  • They always constitute a minority of the population.
  • Being a minority they are better organised and thus hold an advantage over the majority. Ex. Communist guerrila tactics against US in Vietnam.
  • They excel in personal qualities.
  • Use political formula (institutionalisation and ideologies) and try to make their hold on power look justified to the masses.
  • Not a closed group. Over time new elite groups emerge and struggle with the old elite groups for power, thus, membership changes but they always remain a minority.


  • Both Pareto and Mosca focussed a lot on the personal qualities of the elite as the cause of elite rule, this came to be criticised later on as crude and simplistic.
  • Their theories were also seen as supporting fascism.
  • Studies often found elite pluralism rather than concentration. Robert Dahl. Who Governs?

Robert Michel

In his book Political Parties looked at structural dimensions of elite rule rather than personal qualities of the elite. He says that in modern industrial societies, organisation has improved and been implemented at the mass scale. This makes it impossible for everyone to have enough information to take informed decisions, thus large scale organisation makes any society an oligarchy. The rank and file of the organisation are apathetic and ignorant of the true picture of events, leaving a select few experts at the top of the hierarchy to take all decisions.(Iron law of oligarchy: that given time all large institutions develop oligarchic tendencies and thus, there is no real democracy in effect)

C Wright Mills

In his book Power Elite he proposed a new elite theory in the USA. He said that elite, a small & cohesive group, always ruled not because of personal qualities but because they held command positions in key institutions in society. He identified the three key institutions as:

  • Major corporations. Ex. CEOs of big tech companies.
  • Military. Ex. senior officers.
  • Federal government. Ex. IAS officers.

He said that these elite were often drawn from the same social strata and intermarried regularly. He called this group the power elite. This sparked a debate about the existence of small, cohesive group of elite and led to further studies.

Floyd Hunter Conducted a study to find community power structure in Atlanta. He took reputation for power as the basis of power. He found that Atlanta was indeed controlled by a small cohesive elite.

Robert Dahl Conducted a study titled Who Governs? in New Haven. He took decision making in three spheres as the basis of power. The areas were:

  • Social: Particularly educational system reforms.
  • Economic: Decisions regarding contracts for urban renewal.
  • Political: Decisions regarding nomination of people for political posts.

He found that different notables held power in different spheres of influence. Though there did exist a relationship of give and take between them. Pointed at elite pluralism or power being more widely dispersed than had been previously claimed.

Thus, elite theorists consider rise of elites to be caused by:

  • Pareto – Lions and foxes.
  • Mosca – organised minority, personal qualities.
  • Mann – not an elite theorist.
  • Robert Michel – oligarchic tendencies in a large scale bureaucracy.
  • CW Mills – control of command positions .
  • Robert Dahl – elite pluralism.

Political Parties


Associative types of social relationships, membership in which rests on formally free recruitments. They operate in terms of goal-oriented coordinated action as they demand rational behaviour from their members towards commonly acknowledged goals. The primary goal of a political party is to secure power and to hold it either singly or in cooperation with other political parties.According to Weber, a political party is a mutually exploitative social relationship. It exploits its members for gaining power and the members exploit the party to push their agenda.


  • A political party is a group with a label that presents candidates for public office through elections.
  • Political parties are an aspect of political modernisation, earlier there used to be court factions.

Emergence of Political Parties in modern societies

  • With modernisation, citizenship emerged. Earlier people were subjects, now they are citizens entitled to legal and political rights.
  • Political rights allow the people to participate in and influence the exercise of political power.
  • When people seek political office through public support it creates a need for political parties as they are instruments which mobilise public support.
  • Also social differences lead to the emergence of specialised interests (social cleavages) which are represented by the political parties.

Von Byme Identified social cleavages in Europe that led to emergence of new political parties. For instance:

  • Liberals and democrats v. monarchists.
  • Regional parties v. centrist parties.
  • Religious v. secular parties.
  • Fascist v. democratic parties.
  • Greens v. growth oriented parties.

In third world countries a separate type of cleavage emerges in the form of ethnicity based cleavages. Ex. caste based cleavages in India, tribal cleavages in Rwanda. Further, institutions like the parliament have caused the mushrooming of political parties of all hues and colours.

Functions of Political Parties

  • Articulate interests of members and supporters.
  • Interest aggregation, i.e. harmonising interest of many groups in order to gain political power.
  • Political recruitment and socialisation.
  • Political communication in the form of publication of policy and popular policy-making. Two way channel.
  • Mobilise support during elections.

Maurice Duverger: In a comparative study of parties around the world, he classified them into 4 types based on their structure:

  1. Caucus type: Exist where popular participation in politics is limited. Ex. USA, most needs of people are met by institutional setups and thus political participation is low.
  2. Branch type: Typical European democratic parties (ex. congress, BJP, CPI-M). They try to recruit as many members as possible. Geographically organised, and have well developed hierarchy. Not purely election machines, they remain active throughout the year. Usually divided on ideological lines.
  3. Cell type: A communist innovation. Come into existence when political activities have to be conducted in a clandestine manner because such a party is often in conflict with the existing authority.
  4. Militia type: A fascist innovation. They terrorize and browbeat political opponents. Ex. Nazi SS.

Political parties can be organised into three major types of party systems:

  • Single party system. This can be further classified as totalitarian (Mao’s CPC) and authoritarian systems (Current CPC; allows certain freedoms).
  • Two party system. (US/UK)
  • Multi-party system. (India, Japan, Israel).

Pressure Groups

A characteristic of contemporary political systems, the concept of Pressure Groups first emerged in the United States during the 1920s. A Pressure Group is a formally organized social collective whose members unite around shared interests and aspire to shape public policy in alignment with their interests, all while abstaining from assuming any responsibilities related to governance. It’s worth noting that a Pressure Group may eventually evolve into a political party, although this transition is not obligatory.

Pressure groups are very important for modern society as:

  • Cater to special interests that are left out of political parties’ interest aggregation.
  • Civil society groups act as auditors for government.
  • Operate informally and can influence leaders personally.
  • Can play an educative role in society.
  • Can also become anomic and force adoption of measures which are not in favour of the public. They may also sometimes become violent.


A Nation represents a vast assembly of individuals united by profound ties of identity, forming an expansive, imagined community. While a nation may assert a claim to statehood or self-governance, it does not invariably possess an independent state of its own.

The foundation of national identity generally rests on a shared heritage encompassing culture, religion, history, language, or ethnicity. However, debates often arise regarding who truly belongs to the national community, and at times, even the existence of the nation itself is questioned. For instance, the German Confederation, consisting of multiple states with German nationalistic sentiments, exemplifies this complexity.

Benedict Anderson’s perspective highlights how nationalism fosters a sense of horizontal solidarity among individuals, irrespective of vertical inequalities.


type of polity that is an organized political community living under a single system of government. A state is usually also a nation but that is not always the case. Ex. Holy Roman Empire a state which existed across “national” boundaries before Napoleon tore it down.


The term “democracy” finds its roots in Athens, originating from the combination of “demos” (meaning “many”) and “kratos” (meaning “rule”). During its early inception, it carried a somewhat derogatory connotation, akin to today’s notion of mob rule. At that time, the prevailing belief held that governance should be entrusted to a trained elite, often exemplified by Plato’s concept of philosopher kings.

In the 19th century, democracy experienced a revival, this time imbued with a positive meaning, largely fueled by economic modernization trends favoring such a political system.

However, as the concept of democracy gained widespread appeal, its original essence began to erode. Almost every political system endeavors to legitimize itself by adopting the label of democracy, such as the “guided democracy” used to describe the dictatorship in the Philippines or the term “Islamic democracy” applied to Islamic rule in Iran. Consequently, democracy has evolved into one of the most versatile and widely employed terms in contemporary political science.

Liberal Democracy: It developed in Western Europe & USA alongside rise of industrial capitalism. The process has been identified as: renaissance (individualism), reformation (separation of church and state), commercial revolution (breakdown of the feudal order), and industrial revolution.

Francis Fukuyama Holds that liberal democracy may be the end stage of human socio-cultural evolution.

Features of liberal democracy:

  • Takes individual as unit of political system. Each individual is assumed to be a rational and self-interested being. lulz
  • Freedom to pursue his/her own good alongside values of freedom and equality.
  • Pluralistic system, multiple groups can compete for power.
  • Independent judiciary is required for liberal democracy to function effectively.

Merits of liberal democracy:

  • Protects individual rights and freedoms against other individuals and state.
  • Rousseau said that freedom lies in being governed by laws that you decide.
  • Prevents abuse of power through a system of checks and balances.
  • State becomes sensitive to the needs and wants of the people. Amartya Sen famine example.
  • Empowers the deprived masses and causes decisions to be more rational.

Criticism of liberal democracy:

  • Rule of elites. Elite pluralism at best.
  • Participation by people is periodic.
  • Competitive populism. State becomes incapable of taking unpopular stands.
  • State may degenerate to majoritarian rule.
  • Iron law of oligarchy by Robert Michel.

Participatory Democracy

Direct democracy entails a more hands-on engagement of individuals in the political process, in contrast to the relatively limited participation seen in a liberal democracy. In a liberal democracy, involvement is typically confined to periodic voting to select leaders, while direct democracy empowers people to actively engage and make decisions continuously, essentially bypassing the role of professional politicians. This approach blurs the traditional demarcation between civil society and government.

For instance, the concept of “Mohalla Sabhas” proposed by the AAP government in Delhi exemplifies this ethos. The advent of social media has further facilitated this direct engagement, allowing for the real-time assessment of public sentiments and involvement in specific issues. The Occupy movement serves as another notable example of such grassroots participation.


The concept originated from the membership of ancient Greek city states, the basic idea was that citizens enjoyed certain rights to the exclusion of other residents of the city. Today it means a full and responsible membership of the political community with reciprocal relations between the citizens and the state.

T H Marshall Citizenship implies membership of the political community i.e. Citizens treated equally with respect to their rights and duties. He defines three stages:

  • Civil rights. Equality before law, personal liberty, freedom of speech, thought & belief etc. Developed in England in 18th century.
  • Political rights. Right to hold political office, participate in elections, etc. Developed in 19th century.
  • Social & economic rights. Right to a certain level of social and economic welfare, etc. developed in the 20th century. This stage is most important according to Marshall. (Rising prominence with the coming of the 4th industrial revolution; black lives matter protests; tyranny of merit)

Anthony Giddens. He says that citizenship rights are in two main categories:

  • Civil & political rights won by the bourgeoisie in the struggle against the feudal order.
  • Socio-economic rights won by the proletariat in the struggle against the bourgeoisie.


  • Citizenship is a dynamic concept which has since expanded.
  • Marshall’s theory was patriarchal: now gender rights are increasingly being added. 4th wave feminism is highlighting structural gender biases in society.
  • Sexual rights, ethnic rights too are in effect now.
  • Green citizenship: plants and animals have a right to live as well.
  • Transnational citizenship has emerged in the EU. Schengen zone.
  • With the neo-liberal shift, the welfare state is increasingly on the decline.
  • The above view has been critiqued as income inequality is on the rise.

The rise of globalization has ushered in a fresh discourse, epitomized by the clash between multiculturalism and universal citizenship, as exemplified in the Brexit debate. Advocates of universal citizenship contend that every citizen should enjoy identical rights, irrespective of factors like culture, religion, or ethnicity, as these are inherently personal. In contrast, proponents of multiculturalism raise concerns that their cultural heritage is being eroded by external influences. Striking a balanced approach entails preserving cultural diversity as much as possible, so long as it aligns with contemporary values.


Coined by a Frenchman to mean the science of ideas, it no longer adheres to its original meaning. Present meaning emerged in the mid-19th century with the works of Marx.

Marx says ideology refers to the ideas of the ruling class, which they use to justify the existing class structure, thus, it is a kind of false consciousness.

Antonio Gramsci. In his prison notebook, he wrote that coercion (through ideology) is not the only way that the ruling class use justify their rule. They also rule by the consent of the proletariat, this is called hegemony. Ideology is one of the tools of creating hegemony. Follows Marxist ideas to the logical end. Thus, the present meaning of ideology is that it represents a more or less coherent set of ideas that provide the basis for organised action which aims to pressure or change the existing system.

Karl Mannheim: He gave a distinction between ideologies.

Ideology serves as a cognitive framework typically designed to safeguard a specific social order, often aligning with the objectives of the prevailing dominant class. In contrast, utopia envisions an idealized future that necessitates substantial social transformation, thereby representing the interests of the marginalized class. Some ideologies encompass the worldviews of entire societies or historical eras, which Daniel Bell labels as “total ideologies.” For instance, liberalism functions as the total ideology of capitalism, just as Marxism does for socialism. Bell further contends that ideology plays a crucial role in sustaining collective action over extended periods. In the absence of a clearly defined ideology, collective efforts tend to devolve into sporadic actions rather than cohesive and enduring mobilization.

Civil Society

The rise of capitalism gave rise to a social space outside the state consisting of private associations and contributing to morally-guided social change. Their function are:

  • They are a defence against excessive state power as well as a guard against atomised individualism, both of which lead to an authoritarian state.
  • Essential for debates, opinion sharing, and consensus building.
  • Social media is a powerful new tool for spreading of civil society reach. Fifth pillar.
  • With the growth of large monopolies, media has lost its autonomy. The 4th pillar of  democracy losing its power to challenge corporate views.
  • Rise of anomic civil society groups such as the Karni Sena, etc.

Hegel: said that while state represented a space of universal altruism, civil society represented a space of universal egoism.

Gramsci: said that civil society was a means of winning the consent of the ruled and creating a state of hegemony.

Social Movements

Collective action refers to emergent and minimally coordinated action by two or more people that is motivated by a desire to change certain aspects of social life or resist the changes proposed by others.

Protests are collective challenges to the status quo which are:

  • Directed towards authorities.
  • Generally restricted to local issues. When the gather critical momentum for mass participation they become protest movements.

Protests and movements of this nature often involve marginalized groups that lack the means to bring about change through established institutional channels. Consequently, they resort to emergent collective action. In democratic systems, due to the freedom to protest, such actions tend to be more frequent but less prone to violence, given the relatively lower structural strain (as seen in the Patidar reservation movement). In contrast, under other forms of government, protests are less frequent but more likely to escalate into violence, as exemplified by events like the Arab Spring and the Tian’anmen Square Protests.

Protests that intensify emotionally and escalate into violence are commonly referred to as agitations. When collective action aimed at effecting change or resisting it is protracted over an extended duration, possesses an organized structure and leadership, and is guided by a specific ideology, it is designated as a social movement.

Thus, prerequisites for social movements are:

  • Coordination group and leadership. (for sustaining long term action)
  • Ideology. (for general orientation towards authorities and civil society)

Genesis of a Social Movement

When a group of people relatively unhappy with their objective conditions and feel deprived in relation to their reference group, they begin to develop a change orientation in order to challenge the status quo. This is known as the relative deprivation theory for genesis of social movements.

Marx says that only in a capitalist society with all its comforts appropriated by the bourgeoisie can a proletariat revolution occur.

Ted Robert Gurr says in Why Men Rebel that there are 3 types of relative deprivation:

  • Aspirational Deprivation: when capabilities = expectation but over time expectations go up. Ex father used a cycle but now son wants a car, capabilities are the same but aspirations are different.
  • Decremental Deprivation: when capabilities = expectation but over time capabilities go down. Ex during inflation, due to collapse of the buying power of money people are unable to afford what they normally can, therefore resulting in more frequent protests during times of high inflation.
  • Progressive Deprivation: over time expectations increase and capabilities go down, this is the most acute sense of deprivation.

While Gurr articulated the cause of negative emotions, he doesn’t account for the emergence of collective action. Thus, relative deprivation is itself an insufficient condition for social movement.

Neil J Smelsor proposed the structural strain theory. He gave 6 conditions that determine the genesis and career of a social movement:

  1. Structural conduciveness. Social conditions should be such that they promote or atleast tolerate a social movement. Ex. dissenting opinions by SC judges is an example of structural conduciveness to opposing view points.
  2. Structural strain. Refers to dysfunction in society i.e. some sections must feel relative deprivation leading to conflict in society.
  3. Common ideology.
  4. Coordination group/Leadership.
  5. Precipitating event.
  6. Exercise of controls by state.Career of a social movement is defined by the reaction of authority.

It has been suggested that the success of movements also depends on the ability of the participants to mobilise resources. (Gandhi said that mass movements couldn’t be sustained for long as people’s capacity for sacrifice was limited) These are:

  • Moral resources, reputation for integrity. Presence (Ex Anna Hazare) gives legitimacy to the movement.
  • Cultural resources, special knowledge. Addressing the press, media management, mobilising protestors, etc.
  • Material resources. Money, food, etc.
  • Human resources. Crowds, volunteers, etc.

Career of a Movement

Zald Ash/Herbert Blumer: In their study they identified the stages of a movement:

  • Unrest stage. Structural strain is present.
  • Excitement stage. Unrest becomes focused.
  • Ideology appears identifying the cause of unrest.
  • Proposals for action are debated.
  • Formalization stage. Leadership emerges.
  • Program of action is decided upon.
  • Organization is put in place.
  • Strategy and tactics are worked out.

After this the movement begins in earnest. As the flexibility and creativity of the movement die out, institutionalization of functions begins. A bureaucracy takes over. Over time it changes to a rigidly organised party and the movement dissolves. Ash and Blumer say that marginalised/malintegrated people are the ones who initiate a movement. That is to say people who are looking for a goal or are bored shitless.

Types of Movements (Change orientation is often used to classify movements)

Neil J Smelsor gave a two fold classification:

  • Value oriented. Question the basic values of existing social order. Ex. Black lives matters in US.
  • Norm oriented. Focus on specific aspects that they want changed or not changed. Pro-choice movement in Poland.

MSA Rao gave three kinds:

  • Reformative. Limited change in gradual and peaceful ways. Ex banning sati, temple entry movements, etc.
  • Transformative. Major changes which may be violent. Ex ending colonial rule, millenarian movements, etc.
  • Revolutionary. Drastic and complete overhaul. Ex Russian revolution of 1917.


The term took on a distinct connotation following the French Revolution, coming to represent a abrupt, forceful shift in the political system that subsequently brings about significant, often non-political transformations. These upheavals typically entail mass participation.

A typology of revolutions has been developed based on comparative study:

  • Social revolution. Rapid and basic transformation of society’s state and class structure. Accompanied with class based revolt from below. Ex. French, Russian, Chinese, Cuban, Iranian.
  • Political revolution. Involve a change in holders of power through mass participation but w/o deep socio-eco transformation. Ex. Arab spring.
  • Revolution from above. Power capture by the elite with/out use of military power and then followed by radical transformation of state. Ex. Nasser in Egypt, Ataturk in Turkey, Deng Xiaoping in China, etc.
  • Anti-Colonial revolution. Anti-colonial struggle followed by deep socio economic transformation.
  • Failed revolution. Ex. Salvador Allende in Chile.

Factors Leading to Revolution

Marx: Homogenisation, pauperisation and polarisation theses. Revolution inevitable.
Lenin: There must be mass discontent, and a conscious vanguard party which needs to capture power to create a socialist society. Power is captured by taking control of the administrative apparatus of the state.
Mao Zedong: Mass discontent of the peasants which can be harnessed by the vanguard party to capture political power through armed struggle.
Crain Brinton/LP Edwards. Tried to identify a set pattern for revolutions to occur.

  • Desertion of ruling elite by the intelligentsia. (Pen is mightier than the sword?)
  • A crisis of state develops where existing regime installs reforms but fails to resolve the crisis, thereby making a political solution of the problems all but impossible.
  • Revolutionary coalitions capture power at this point.

Theeda Skocpol: She says that the necessary condition for revolution is a major crises in multiple spheres of the existing state. If the state is still strong while in crisis, then no level of mass mobilisation will lead to revolution. However, if alongside a crisis, economic and military problems arise, then revolution is possible.

John Foran– Comparative study of 36 revolutions worldwide. He identified the causes as:

  • Uneven development cornered by a select few.
  • Repressive and exclusionary state.
  • Political culture of oppression.
  • Economic downturn.

Consequences of Revolution

  • Leads to strengthening of state machinery. Ex. Erdogan presidency became stronger after a failed coup attempt against the President.
  • State becomes strong and centralised leading to loss of political freedoms.
  • Socio-economic conditions improve drastically, with initiatives such as education, healthcare, and employment for all.

Social Media

According to Zeynep Tufecki

  1. Reformation of the public sphere online. (Habermas: public sphere is a collection of private individuals coming together as a public and articulating the needs of the society with the state)
  2. Alters the spatial and temporal structure of society.
  3. As a means of organising material, cultural and human resources.
  4. As an accelerant for already existing social strain.
  5. Rise of organised political abuse.
  6. Governmental use: flooding with distracting content, disinformation, platform marginalisation.

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