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This week we will be examining classical theories of political sociology examining the origins of political power. Marx and Weber have generally been seen as instigators of the two main currents in political sociological understandings of state power. Marx and Marxists have emphasised the role of capitalism in creating class divisions that stratify society. Max Weber has been credited with spawning both elitist and pluralist theories. While elitism argues that power is basically controlled by the same culturally reproduced group of power-mongers over generations, pluralists believe that power can be influenced by various groups in civil society exerting pressure on the centre of power.
Marxists tend to have a class-based explanation of the state, emphasising its determination by economic structural factors and the way in which states are driven by capitalist rather than democratic priorities. They see the state as subordinate to particular economic interests rather than as balanced between the interests of plural groups in society. There are, however, differences of emphasis amongst Marxists and within the writings of Marx himself on the question of precisely how and to what extent the state is subordinate to capitalist economic priorities. We shall look at these differences, in order to explain the complexities within Marxist thinking about the importance of the state for understanding society. This has been of crucial importance for the field of political sociology.
Weber was pessimistic about the possibility of mass participation in modern nation-states. He emphasised the role of parliament as a training ground for politicians rather than as a democratic arena. He suggested that parties tend to subvert parliaments and stressed the role of charismatic leadership. He also analysed processes of rationalisation and bureaucratisation, the distinctiveness of the modern nation-state, the importance of legitimacy and authority and the way in which classes and other sorts of groups struggle for power.