Sociology A2 (2)

Power and politics

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  • Created by: Gillain
  • Created on: 16-06-10 23:04

Functionalist Key words

Talcott parsons.

value consensus.

collective goals.

variable sum.

constant sum.


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Talcott Parsons argues that all society requires a value consensus based on shared goals.

For Parson, power is used to achieve collective goals such as material prosperity. Everybody therefore benefits from the exercise of power (called: a variable sum model).

In more conventional view of power some benefit at the expense of others (a constant view of power).

Authority in a socity in a socitey is usually acceted as legitmate becuase it helps to achive collective goals.


Parsons is wrong to see the exercise of power as benefiting everyone rather than being used to sectional interests.

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Classical pluralism - Key words & theorists

Weberian view of power; Divisions ;Tranny of the majority; Honest Broker; broadly representative; Sectional interests.

Garnett: membership of political parties are falling but interest and political groups are falling. Influence government's in periods of elections; increase participation in politics; to respond to changing circumstances.

Two types of pressure groups: Protecctive (defend the interests of a particular group) and promotional (based on causes and issues - diverse membership).

Garnett: Membership of pressure groups is rising. They can influence the government in a partcuilar way; by paying party funds (labour); by paying to speak in the house of parliment; by provinging expert opinions to the government.


Marxist argue they fail to account the second face of power. Radical questions such as the redistribution of wealth should be part off the decision making process.

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Classical pluralism - Key words & theorists part 2

Sectional interests (american sociatey - democracy > comaparison to industrail socitey which is difereanted into social groups and sectional interest)

Divsions are based on age, socail class, gender and ethnicity, but it can also be based whether you own a morgatge, or have a child.

Socieites need to prevent a Tranny of the majority, where by one group dominants the other.

The state acts as a Honest Broker, by floating and favouring between different interest pressure groups at different time. Which balances thier interests over extended periods.

Political Parties are seen as broadly representative of the mass, as they need a certain amount of votes in order to be elected. If the existing parties do not represent public interests, new ones emerge.

2 types of pressure groups. Garnett 1 and 2.

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Elite Pluralism

Elite pluralist argue that power is widely dispersed in socity, however there are some groups who own more power than another. For example leaders of interserts groups are more powerful than the members. They argue that there are other faces power:

Grant argues despite the pressure groups in politics, Britain remains largely democratic. Changes include:

  • The increase in a number of pressure groups so most pressure groups are represented;
  • More government consultation of pressure groups;
  • an increase in a number of groups so that most pressure groups so that most interests remains represented;
  • increase of direct action

Criticism: Ignores third face of power and may under estimate the equality of power within society and the possible use of power by the elites to further their own interest.

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Power is dispersed in society, (SOME GROUPS OWN MORE POWER THAN OTHERS)


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Elite theory

Classical Elite theory- Pareto > Psychological characteristics

What makes them superior to the masses is that they have characteristic which they lack. Lions for example achieve power through coercion anbd force; foxes rule by being cunning. Pareto's elite tend to circulate with lions being relpaced by foxes and so on.

He is criticised by believing that the elites is suprerier to the mass.

Modern Elite theories : C Wright Mills

He argued that there was a power elite which had a power through holding key positions in three institutions:

Major Corporations; the military; the federal government.

The elites are connected through intermarriage, movement of individuals between elites, similar educational backgrounds and memberships of the same prestige clubs.

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Globalisation - sklair

According to sklair, the states contain some aspect of power, but the most power lies within the transnational government. This can be understood in terms of spheres and their corresponding transitional practices. Transnational corporations have much more power then the consumers , because of their control over global and capital resources. The transnational capilitist hold power by either holding office or uses economic power to stop the state from acting against its interests. Most consumers are effectively trained by TNCs into consuming the products produced by them. However the global capitalist creates two crisis: The crisis of class polarisation (division) between the rich and poor within and between nations The crisis of the ecological unsustainablilty in which finite resourses are used up and the evrionment is damaged or destroyed. Globalisation is opposed by anti-global social movements, but skailr is pessimistic about their chances of challenging the power of the TNCS. Sklair is critisied for exaggerating the power of t.n.cs, and neglecting the influnace of the finance such as the banks.

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Hirst and Thompson – Questioning globalisation

They are highly critical on the globalisation theory, stating most corporations stay in their home countries and regions and making most of their profit from the domestic market or the immediate region. They are argue that states has lost most of their power, that some states still control territory and control populations, shows that they retain much of their power. Most individuals feel that they are part of a particular state and this gives individuals power over them.

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Globalisation and high commodities, Giddens

Giddens takes a more balanced view of globalisation, than ohmae and Hirst and Thompson. He sees socialisation in terms of worldwide social relationships linking distant localities and shaping local events. Interactions is stretched across space and time (you can interact with anyone without being physically near them or present at the same time. Via the internet, for example. This is increasing global competition in business and a world financial market resulting in a global economy. This restricts nation state power since nations have to compete to attract within investment from corporations. Nation states do not lose their power, they sometimes exercise cultural influence over citizens and they retain some economic power; but nations do not need to co-operate to maintain power against transnational corporations and other groups.

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Held and Crew – Transnational issues

Held and Mc crew argues that globalisation is not a new process, and countries retain strong national identities, but nations need to corporate to maintain power against transnational corporations and other groups. Consuming global products does not destroy the local culture, it may even strengthen them. Consuming global products does not weaken local power instead it makes them stronger. Politics is becoming globalised and global political institutions such as UN and EU are increasingly important. ‘Economic connectedness’ and transnational problems are increasing. As a result of these changes peoples lives are less subject to democratic control. Held and McCrew see increasing the accountability of international institutions as the solution. Held has been criticised as being idealistic.

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Post modern theories. Baudrillard – end of politic

He argues that politics has been detached from reality and is more concerned about it’s image. Rather than being concerned with the substance of policy. For Baudrillard there is no real difference between the main parties and voters have little real choice. Politicians have no real power and simply try to maintain the illusion that they do. Politics is simply concerned with simulacra – signs that have no relationship to reality. Crisitsm: Politicians do make decisions that effect peoples life's (war is real and leads to real people being killed)

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Lyotard – decline of metanarratives

In postmodern era ideological theories is no longer important. People no longer believe in political ideologies. Politics become less about principles and more about local issues and the practicality of achcieving things. Which ends up becoming a series of language games about politics. Which becomes a series of language games about specialist topics. Power is more to do with knowledge than the state activities.

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Fraser – public and private sphere

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