Politics is the process by which groups of people make decisions. The term is generally applied to behavior within civil governments, but politics has been observed in all human group interactions, including corporate, academic, and religious institutions. It consists of social relations involving authority or power, the regulation of political units, and the methods and tactics used to formulate and apply social policy.
In the past, a typical research question in political sociology might have been: "Why do so few American citizens choose to vote? " or "What difference does it make if women get elected? "
Modern political sociologists are now focused on questions such as: "How is the body a site of power? ", "How are emotions relevant to global poverty? ", or "What difference does knowledge make to democracy? "
Traditional Political Sociology
Traditionally there have been four main areas of research in political sociology:
- The socio-political formation of the modern state
- "Who rules? " How social inequality between groups (class, race, gender, etc.) influences politics
- How public personalities, social movements, and trends outside of the formal institutions of political power affect formal politics
- Power relationships within and between social groups (e.g. families, workplaces, bureaucracy, media, etc.).
Political sociology was traditionally concerned with how social trends, dynamics, and structures of domination affect formal political processes. It also explored how various social forces work together to change political policies. From this perspective there are three major theoretical frameworks: pluralism, elite or managerial theory, and class analysis (which overlaps with Marxist analysis).
Pluralism sees politics as a contest between competing interest groups. It holds the view that politics and decision making are located mostly in the framework of government, but many non-governmental groups use their resources to exert influence. Groups of individuals try to maximize their interests. There are multiple lines of power that shift as power is a continuous bargaining process between competing groups. Any change under this view will be slow and incremental—groups have different interests and may act as "veto groups" to destroy legislation that they do not agree with.
Elite or managerial theory is sometimes called a state-centered approach. It also seeks to describe and explain power relationships in contemporary society. The theory posits that a small minority—consisting of members of the economic elite and policy-planning networks—holds the most power. This power is independent of a state's democratic elections process. Through positions in corporations, corporate boards, and policy-planning networks, members of the "elite" are able to exert significant power over the policy decisions of corporations and governments.
Social class analysis emphasizes the political power of capitalist elites. It can be split into two parts. One is the 'power structure' or 'instrumentalist' approach; the other is the 'structuralist' approach. The power structure approach focuses on determining who rules, while the structuralist approach emphasizes the way a capitalist economy operates, allowing and encouraging the state to do some things but not others.
Contemporary Political Sociology
Contemporary political sociology is concerned with the play of power and politics across societies, which includes, but is not restricted to relations between the state and society. In part, this is a product of the growing complexity of social relations, the impact of social movement organizing, and the relative weakening of the state via globalization. Political sociology is as much focused on micro questions (the formation of identity through social interaction; the politics of knowledge), as it is on macro questions (how to capture and use state power).
President Bush's 2003 State of the Union Address
Politics is a decision making process, which often takes place in legislative bodies such as the U.S. Congress.