Political sociology remains one of the broadest and most diverse specialty areas within sociology. Topics can range from state development in medieval Europe to how the media shapes the public’s political attitudes. Given the diversity in topics, selecting just five “core” concepts can be a rather daunting task. However, in teaching my own version of political sociology the five key ideas that I would want to convey to my class would include: power, hegemony, state, citizenship and social movements. In what follows I will describe the key points I would want to convey about each concept and the literature I would use to demonstrate these keys points.
Power is a central tenet to the study of political sociology because power pervades every aspect of social life. Power is embedded in relationships between the state and civil society. It is embedded in institutions, relationships between classes and other interests groups, and shapes the very structure of society and our everyday lives. It informs who is allowed to get what and how much they get. One key idea underlying the conceptualization of power is that it is a relational concept, meaning that power is not static or absolute, it moves, changes shape, and remains rather fluid. Though power pervades every aspect of social life, it is often not easily detectable or seen. This makes power, as many political sociological theorists describe it, an “essentially contested” concept (Lukes 1974: 9) meaning that there is no concrete or easily tangible definition. Another key quality underlying power is that it takes on different forms: power over, holding power, power to do something, having more power, or being powerless (Neuman 2005). A third key quality underlying power is that it occurs in multiple dimensions (Lukes 1974), this means that power can operate at different levels of institutions, in micro and macro social processes or levels of consciousness. To demonstrate this point I would use Lukes’ (1974) book on the three dimensions of power. The first dimension of power theorizes power from the simplest terms, decision making. It focuses on action and resulting outcomes between two competing interest groups. Lukes’ second dimension of power takes this analysis a bit further by extending the analysis of power to includ options that are not considered or, non-decisions. Non-decisions represent potential issues, but their potentiality is determined by agenda setting. Agenda setting itself involves an exercise of power because it involves a group’s ability to bring their interests/state goals to the table to be considered in the formal decision making process. In these instances some group’s interests may get out voted, and in other instances they may lack the resources or following to even get to the table in the first place. As in line with the first and second dimensions of power, these conceptions of power only focus on actual, observable conflict (Lukes 1974: 19). To further demonstrate how power works in society, I would also have my class read Domhoff’s “Who Rules America?” Domhoff (2006) captures how the corporate elite limit the scope of options by shaping the political agenda before it even reaches a place where the public can vote on it. This is very much in line with the second dimension of power as Domhoff uncovers the mechanisms –lobbying, straying away from social issues, the creation of think-tanks, etc. – that allow the corporate elite to shape policy so that it benefits their own (economic) interests. Lukes third dimension of power captures this more, unconscious, commonsensical and hegemonic notion of power. Hegemony, which is connected to power, is the second core political sociology concept that I would emphasize in my own class. Hegemony was often theorized mainly on an ideological terrain. However some approaches see hegemony, as a form of power, that is ingrained in everyday life as “patterns of thought, terms and categories of language, and...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document