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Sociology- CH 18 Politics and Social Movements

By tshaikh5 Oct 13, 2014 2214 Words
Terms Defined:

• Power: Ability of an individual or group to impose its will on others, even if they resist

• Authority: Power widely viewed as legitimate

• Authorities: People who occupy command posts of legitimized power structures*

• The power of a group may be widely recognized as legitimate or valid under some

• Social movements: collective attempts to change part or all of the social order

• Political Parties: organizations that seek to control state power to achieve their aims.

Two types of Politics

1. “Normal politics”: When authorities are firmly in power

2. “Politics beyond rules”: When legitimate authority grows weak*

Power From Above Normal Politics:

• The state: Set of institutions that formulate and carry out a country’s laws, policies, and binding


• The state’s power is “ultimate” because its authority stands above all others

• Furthermore, if the state needs to use force to maintain order or protect its borders, most

people will regard its actions as legitimate

• In normal politics, ultimate seat of power is the state (state power widely recognized as


• State also is authorized to use force (coercive power) if necessary

• But use of force by authorities is sign of state’s weakness (should not need force to impose will)


• In democratic countries like Canada, the government is formed by elected members of the

political party that wins most seats in a general election

• Government initiates policies, proposes laws, and enforces both

• The government is referred to as the executive branch*

Civil Society:

• Individuals in civil society (private sphere of life) also exercise control over the state through

variety of organizations and institutions, including:

Social movements, mass media, pressure groups or “lobbies”, political parties

circumstances; if it is, raw power becomes legitimate authority

social movements can influence the state by rioting, petitioning, striking, demonstrating, and

establish pressure groups, unions and political parties to achieve their aims

The mass media are supposed to keep a watchful and critical eye on the state and help keep the

public informed about the quality of government

Pressure groups or “lobbies” are formed by trade unions, manufacturers’ associations, ethnic

groups, and other organizations to advise politicians of their members’ desires; lobbies also

remind politicians how much their members’ votes and campaign contributions matter

Five Sociological theories of democracy:

1. Pluralist theory: Argues normal democratic politics is characterized by compromise and

accommodation of all group interests

According to pluralists, we live in a heterogeneous society with many competing interests and

centres of power; in a democracy no one social group controls the state because there are

competing interests in civil society and different groups win political struggles on different


Compromise and accommodation guarantees democracy

2. Elite theory C. Wright Mills: Argues that despite compromise and accommodation, power is

concentrated in higher-status groups, whose interests the political system serves best

• Elite theory claims that the wealthy have a disproportionate influence over the state since

• The most powerful elites are the people who run the country’s several hundred biggest

• The elite are interconnected and move from one elite group to another over the course

they have disproportionate resources to run for office, contribute to parties, and influence


corporations, the executive branch of government, and the military

of their careers; however, they do not form a ruling class (i.e., self conscious and cohesive

group of people led by corporate executives who act to advance their common interests)

because each elite group has its own jealously guarded sphere of influence thereby making

conflict between elite groups frequent

Elites are interconnected but do not form a ruling class*

Critique of pluralist

• Existence of large, persistent, wealth-based inequalities in political influence and political

• Political involvement decreases with social class

• As political involvement declines, so does political influence

• Lower classes are less likely to vote, run for office, and influence public policy


Marxist theory: rare occasion when political power is rapidly redistributed by revolutionary upheavals.

i. Instrumentalist Marxists: Argue that elites form a ruling class, one dominated by big business

The state is instrument of business elite who gain control of state by:

Having members of wealthy families occupy important state positions, and

Having the state rely on big business for advice and financial support

Agree to maintain health of capitalist system

Structuralist Marxists: Argue capitalist state acts as arm of big business because it is embedded

in a capitalist system that forces it to act this way*, well being of big businesses

According to Structuralist Marxists, the capitalist state acts as an arm of big business not

because of social origins of elite members and social ties among elites but because it is

constrained to do so by the nature of capitalism itself

According to both of these Marxist theories, ordinary citizens – and especially members of the

working class – rarely have much influence over state policy; true democracy can emerge, then,

only if members of the working class and their supporters overthrow capitalism and establish

a socialist system in which economic differences between people are eliminated or at least

substantially reduced

As intensity of political participation declines, so does political influence.

Poor think government doesn’t care what they think, and less likely to vote then well to do people.

Power balance theory:

• Argues that despite concentration of power in society, substantial shifts in distribution of power

often occur

• Democratic politics becomes a contest among various classes and other groups to control the

state for their own advantage

• Power concentrated in hands of wealthy, but sometimes other classes gain power.

These shifts have discernible effects on voting patterns and public policies

• Suggests degree to which a country is democratic depends on distribution of power between

upper and lower classes

A country is more democratic when power is widely distributed*

Although power-balance theorists admit that power is usually in the hands of the wealthy, they

insist that power is sometimes redistributed with profound effects

When power is substantially redistributed – when, for example, a major class gets better

organized while another major class becomes less socially organized – old ruling parties usually

fall and new ones take office (although this does not become a winner-take-all phenomenon

because the party in power must attend somewhat to the wants of the losing minorities)

By treating the distribution of power as a variable, power-balance theorists improve our

understanding of the relationship between power and democracy

State Centered Theory:

• Argues that despite influence of distribution of power on political life, state structures also exert

important and independent effect on politics

• Focuses on how the state itself structures political life independently of way power is distributed

among classes and other groups

Example: United State’s citizen-initiated voter registration law that effectively disenfranchises

many disadvantaged people*

From this point of view, the high rate of non-voting in the United States, for example, is a

result of voter registration law that requires individual citizens to take initiative in registering

themselves in voter registration centres

Since many American citizens are unable or unwilling to register, the United States has a

proportionately smaller pool of eligible voters than other democracies: Only about 65% of

American citizens are registered to vote

As well, because some types of people are less able and inclined than others to register, a strong

bias is introduced into the political system: specifically, the poor are less likely to register than

the better-off

People without much formal education are less likely to register than the better educated, and

members of disadvantaged racial minority groups – especially African Americans – are less likely

to register than whites

Thus, American voter registration law is a pathway to democracy for some but a barrier to

democracy for others and strong bias introduced into political system.


Relative deprivation theory

• Argues social rebellion occurs when an intolerable gap develops between social rewards people

feel they deserve and social rewards they expect to receive

• According to this theory, then, people are most likely to rebel against authority when rising

expectations are met by sudden decline in social rewards.

Social rewards include money, education, security, prestige, etc.

• Claims those who lead and join social movements are likely to be “outsiders” who lack strong

social ties to community

• Large body of research has discredited both claims*

Resource Mobilization Theory:

Based on the idea that social movements emerge only when disadvantaged people can marshal the

means necessary to challenge authority.

• Success or failure of social movements depends largely on availability of resources

Resources include jobs, money, arms, capacity to create strong social ties among themselves,

and access to means of spreading their ideas

Example: High level of unionization is conducive to more strike activity because unions provide

workers with leadership, strike funds, and coordination*

Strike activity has been high when- unemployment is low, union membership is high, and govt’s have

shown themselves to be generous in their provision of social welfare benefits.

Strong social ties among workers and access to jobs and money increases challenge to authority.

Striking was upward until 1974, then prices of oil increased welfare cut, welfare programs cut because

government was burdened by debt

Framing Discontent

• The theory focuses on the process by which individual interests, beliefs, and values either

become congruent and complementary with the activities, goals and ideology of the movement,

or fail to do so

• Stresses face-to-face interaction strategies employed by movement members to recruit non- members who are like-minded, non interested, or even initially opposed to the movements’


• Frame alignment strategies include:

Reaching out to other organizations thought to contain members sympathetic to movement’s


Elevating importance of positive beliefs about the movement

Stressing likelihood of the movement’s success*

Other ways in which frame alignment can be encouraged are:

Analyzing in a clear and convincing manner the causes of the problem that the movement is

trying to solve

Stretching their objectives and activities to win recruits who are not initially sympathetic to the

movement’s original aims (may involve “watering down” of the movements ideals)

Reaching out to recruit non members who are like minded, apathetic or even initially opposed

to movements goals.


• Three centuries ago, social movements typically were small, localized, and violent

• Subsequent growth of the state led to changes in social movements, including:

Growing in size (partly due to increased literacy, modes of communication, and new densely

populated social settings)

Becoming less violent (size and organization often allowed movements to become sufficiently

powerful to get their way without frequent resort to extreme measures)*

Three centuries ago, in Europe, poor residents of a particular city might riot against public

officials in reaction to a rise in bread prices or taxed

• Peasants on a particular estate might burn their landowner’s barns (or their landowner) in

response to his demand for a larger share of their crop

• Were four stages in efforts to expand rights of citizens:

1. Civil citizenship: 18th

justice before the law

2. Political citizenship: 19th

3. Social citizenship: 20th

full participation in social life

Universal citizenship: Last third of 20th-century struggle to recognize right of marginal groups

and rights of humanity as a whole to full citizenship

New social movements


century-struggle for the right to free speech, freedom of religion, and

/early 20th-century struggle for right to vote and run for office

century-struggle for right to a minimum level of economic security and

Membership: New social movements are novel in that they attract disproportionately large number of

well-to-do people from social, educational, and cultural fields

Members include teachers, professors, journalists, social workers, artists, actors, writers, and

student apprentices to these positions

Globalization potential:

• In the 1960s, social movements were typically national in scope

• Greenpeace is an example of a highly successful environmental movement that originated in

Vancouver in the mid-1970s and now has offices n 41 countries, with its international office in

Amsterdam; among other initiatives, it has mounted a campaign to eliminate the international

transportation and dumping of toxic wastes

• New social movements possess more potential for globalization than old social movements

• Globalization facilitated by inexpensive jet transportation and innovations in communications


• Often transcend local and national boundaries to promote universalistic goals (e.g., anti-nuclear

and environmental movements)*

Social movements in Developing countries

• “Other 85%” of the world is weak economically, politically, and militarily because of colonial rule

and delay in industrializing economy

• Rather than seek to broaden democracy through expansion of citizenship rights, social

movements (fueled by anti-Western sentiment) focus on ensuring more elemental human

rights, such as:

Freedom from colonial rule

Freedom to create conditions for independent economic growth**

Outside of the world’s 20 or so richest countries, Western domination prevented

industrialization and the growth of a large business class; this constrained the growth of

democracy and bred resentment against Western power

Social movements in developing countries tend to focus more on restoring independence and

dignity lost through colonial rule rather than on minority rights, multiculturalism, elections, etc.

One of the great tasks that the West faces in the 21st

while doing its utmost to remove the ultimate source of that violence: The gap between rich and

poor countries that opened up at the time of the Industrial Revolution and that has widened

ever since.

century is to defend itself against violence

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