7. Politics and Society

(a) Sociological theories of power (b) Power elite, bureaucracy, pressure groups and political parties (c) Nation, state, citizenship, democracy, civil society, ideology (d) Protest, agitation, social movements, collective action, revolution

Table of contents


Two dimensions of note here:

  1. Basis of power.
  2. Distribution.

Conflict View of Power (Constant Sum)

Weber: Weber was the first one to systematically attempt to define power.

Power represents the chances of an individual or group to realise their will through communal action even in the face of opposition by others. This means that a group holds power at the expense of the other groups i.e. sectional interest is promoted by power. (Weber only considered decision making ability for his theories)

Steven Lukes defined three manifestations of power:

  1. Ability to take decisions.
  2. Ability to veto decisions. (Non-decision making)
  3. Ability to shape desires/opinions.

Consensus View of Power (Variable Sum)

Parsons: Power as a generalised ability of a community to achieve commonly shared goals, commitment towards which has been made through public policy. Ex. working towards stopping climate change.He maintains that every society has a value consensus with regard to common goals. Power is a society’s ability to achieve those common goals. In the variable sum perspective, total power can increase or decrease depending on the society’s ability to achieve common goals. Ex. Green revolution increased India’s power to achieve self-sufficiency in food. Increasing inputs of solar energy will improve India's ability to tackle climate change.

Michael Mann. Studied the nature and sources of power in a globalised world. He stated that societies are made up of multiple overlapping and socio-spatial networks of power. Power, according to Mann, is the ability to attain goals through the mastery of the environment (environment is social as well as physical).

It can exist at two levels:

  • Individual level. Distributional power, ability of individual to get others to help achieve personal goals.
  • Collective level. Power of one group over the other or power of a group over nature. Ex. Britain had power over India during the colonial period; India through green revolution had power over nature.

This power can be exercised as:

  • Extensive power. Ability to organise large number of people in far-flung geographical areas in order to engage in minimally stable cooperation. Ex. Apple designs phones in the USA and assembles them in India.
  • Intensive power. Ability to organize minutely and command a high level of commitment from the participants. Ex. fidayeen, Army.

Another dimension of power is:

  • Authoritative power. Recognised right to command. Ex. army, IAS.
  • Diffused power. No authority to issue commands.
  • Mann maintains that there are multiple sources of power, which may or may not overlap:
  1. Economic power leading to political power. (Marx)
  2. Control over means of violence. Ex. Army, Police.
  3. Bureaucratic power. Ex. IAS officers, elected representatives.
  4. Ideological power. Ex. communism, textbook changes, religious leaders.


Marx: Power is distributed along class lines. Social rewards are cumulative, those who hold economic power also hold political power.

Weber: In a goal rational system of organisation the bureaucracy holds the most power due to their control over key positions.

Vilfredo Pareto

In his book Mind & Society proposed the Elite Theory of Power.

Human behaviour can be classified as logical and non-logical action. The non-logical part makes up most of our actions and it can be further sub classified as:

  • Residue. Instinctive tendencies in human beings left over from eons of evolutionary process. Ex. Gandhi has been called a masochist. They have further relevance for power in the forms of:
    • Combinations. (Have a tendency towards guile and manipulation) FOXES
    • Persistence of aggregates. (Those who are strong and decisive) LIONS
  • Derivation. Rationalisation of residues. Ex. Satyagraha was rationalisation of Gandhi’s masochism.

According to Pareto, those who excel at combinations and persistence of aggregates are suited to rule. They form the ruling elite because of their personality. The two kinds of elite were named as Lions & Foxes. Governance calls for both capabilities.Lions may swoop in and capture power but in order to run the day to day functions of governance they need to recruit foxes from the masses. The lions get lax over time and the foxes by their guile overthrow them. This rule of foxes doesn’t last long either as lions swoop in again. Pareto called this the circulation of elite.

NOTE: Populism as a political doctrine can be seen as a counter to elite rule. However, elite can guide the social agenda and therefore also subsume populism within their ambit. Ex. Caesar as a patrician populares senator.

Gaetano Mosca

In his book Ruling Class he further developed the elite theory of power. There are always two classes, the rulers and the ruled. The rulers have the following characteristics:

  • They always constitute a minority of the population.
  • Being a minority they are better organised and thus hold an advantage over the majority. Ex. Communist guerrila tactics against US in Vietnam.
  • They excel in personal qualities.
  • Use political formula (institutionalisation and ideologies) and try to make their hold on power look justified to the masses.
  • Not a closed group. Over time new elite groups emerge and struggle with the old elite groups for power, thus, membership changes but they always remain a minority.


  • Both Pareto and Mosca focussed a lot on the personal qualities of the elite as the cause of elite rule, this came to be criticised later on as crude and simplistic.
  • Their theories were also seen as supporting fascism.
  • Studies often found elite pluralism rather than concentration. Robert Dahl. Who Governs?

Robert Michel

In his book Political Parties looked at structural dimensions of elite rule rather than personal qualities of the elite. He says that in modern industrial societies, organisation has improved and been implemented at the mass scale. This makes it impossible for everyone to have enough information to take informed decisions, thus large scale organisation makes any society an oligarchy. The rank and file of the organisation are apathetic and ignorant of the true picture of events, leaving a select few experts at the top of the hierarchy to take all decisions.(Iron law of oligarchy: that given time all large institutions develop oligarchic tendencies and thus, there is no real democracy in effect)

C Wright Mills

In his book Power Elite he proposed a new elite theory in the USA. He said that elite, a small & cohesive group, always ruled not because of personal qualities but because they held command positions in key institutions in society. He identified the three key institutions as:

  • Major corporations. Ex. CEOs of big tech companies.
  • Military. Ex. senior officers.
  • Federal government. Ex. IAS officers.

(Missed out on ideological power function, as given by Mann)

He said that these elite were often drawn from the same social strata and intermarried regularly. He called this group the power elite. This sparked a debate about the existence of small, cohesive group of elite and led to further studies.

Floyd Hunter Conducted a study to find community power structure in Atlanta. He took reputation for power as the basis of power. He found that Atlanta was indeed controlled by a small cohesive elite.

Robert Dahl Conducted a study titled Who Governs? in New Haven. He took decision making in three spheres as the basis of power. The areas were:

  • Social: particularly educational system reforms.
  • Economic: decisions regarding contracts for urban renewal.
  • Political: decisions regarding nomination of people for political posts.

He found that different notables held power in different spheres of influence. Though there did exist a relationship of give and take between them. Pointed at elite pluralism or power being more widely dispersed than had been previously claimed.

Thus, elite theorists consider rise of elites to be caused by:Pareto - Lions and foxes.Mosca - organised minority, personal qualities.Mann - not an elite theoristRobert Michel - oligarchic tendencies in a large scale bureaucracy.CW Mills - control of command positions.Robert Dahl - elite pluralism.



Associative types of social relationships, membership in which rests on formally free recruitments. They operate in terms of goal-oriented coordinated action as they demand rational behaviour from their members towards commonly acknowledged goals. The primary goal of a political party is to secure power and to hold it either singly or in cooperation with other political parties.According to Weber, a political party is a mutually exploitative social relationship. It exploits its members for gaining power and the members exploit the party to push their agenda.


A political party is a group with a label that presents candidates for public office through elections.

Political parties are an aspect of political modernisation, earlier there used to be court factions.

Emergence of Political Parties in modern societies

  • With modernisation, citizenship emerged. Earlier people were subjects, now they are citizens entitled to legal and political rights.
  • Political rights allow the people to participate in and influence the exercise of political power.
  • When people seek political office through public support it creates a need for political parties as they are instruments which mobilise public support.
  • Also social differences lead to the emergence of specialised interests (social cleavages) which are represented by the political parties.

Von Byme Identified social cleavages in Europe that led to emergence of new political parties. For instance:

  • Liberals and democrats v. monarchists.
  • Regional parties v. centrist parties.
  • Religious v. secular parties.
  • Fascist v. democratic parties.
  • Greens v. growth oriented parties.

In third world countries a separate type of cleavage emerges in the form of ethnicity based cleavages. Ex. caste based cleavages in India, tribal cleavages in Rwanda. Further, institutions like the parliament have caused the mushrooming of political parties of all hues and colours.

Functions of Political Parties

  • Articulate interests of members and supporters.
  • Interest aggregation, i.e. harmonising interest of many groups in order to gain political power.
  • Political recruitment and socialisation.
  • Political communication in the form of publication of policy and popular policy-making. Two way channel.
  • Mobilise support during elections.

Maurice Duverger: In a comparative study of parties around the world, he classified them into 4 types based on their structure:

  1. Caucus type: Exist where popular participation in politics is limited. Ex. USA, most needs of people are met by institutional setups and thus political participation is low.
  2. Branch type: Typical European democratic parties (ex. congress, BJP, CPI-M). They try to recruit as many members as possible. Geographically organised, and have well developed hierarchy. Not purely election machines, they remain active throughout the year. Usually divided on ideological lines.
  3. Cell type: A communist innovation. Come into existence when political activities have to be conducted in a clandestine manner because such a party is often in conflict with the existing authority.
  4. Militia type: A fascist innovation. They terrorize and browbeat political opponents. Ex. Nazi SS.

Political parties can be organised into three major types of party systems:

  • Single party system. This can be further classified as totalitarian (Mao's CPC) and authoritarian systems (Current CPC; allows certain freedoms).
  • Two party system. (US/UK)
  • Multi-party system. (India, Japan, Israel)


A feature of the modern political systems. First used in USA in the 1920s. A PG is a formally organised social group whose members share common interests and which seek to influence public policy in light of their interests without taking any responsibility for governance. A Presuure Group may over time become a political party, but not necessarily.

Pressure groups are very important for modern society as:

  • Cater to special interests that are left out of political parties’ interest aggregation.
  • Civil society groups act as auditors for government.
  • Operate informally and can influence leaders personally.
  • Can play an educative role in society.
  • Can also become anomic and force adoption of measures which are not in favour of the public. They may also sometimes become violent.

Almond & Powell Classified Pressure Groups as:




A nation is a large group of people with strong bonds of identity, an imagined community on a grand scale. The nation may have a claim to statehood or self-rule, but it does not necessarily enjoy a state of its own.

National identity is typically based on shared culture, religion, history, language or ethnicity, though disputes arise as to who is truly a member of the national community or even whether the nation exists at all. Ex. German confederation which existed as multiple states with German nationalistic sentiments.

Benedict Anderson - nationalism provides horizontal solidarity despite vertical inequalities.


A type of polity that is an organized political community living under a single system of government. A state is usually also a nation but that is not always the case. Ex. Holy Roman Empire a state which existed across “national” boundaries before Napoleon tore it down.


Originated in Athens, as demos + kratos (many + rule). Back then it was considered as derogatory term, similar to today’s mob rule. The reigning wisdom was that the trained elite (Plato's philosopher kings) should rule. It was revived with a positive meaning in the 19th century where the economic modernisation favoured such a polity.

As democracy becomes a desirable trait, it loses out on its meaning. Every political system tries to gain legitimacy by declaring itself a democracy, ex dictatorship in Philippines was called as guided democracy, Islamic rule in Iran is called Islamic democracy. Thus, democracy has becomes the most promiscuous term in modern political science.

Liberal Democracy: It developed in Western Europe & USA alongside rise of industrial capitalism. The process has been identified as: renaissance (individualism), reformation (separation of church and state), commercial revolution (breakdown of the feudal order), and industrial revolution.

Francis Fukuyama Holds that liberal democracy may be the end stage of human socio-cultural evolution.

Features of liberal democracy:

  • Takes individual as unit of political system. Each individual is assumed to be a rational and self-interested being. lulz
  • Freedom to pursue his/her own good alongside values of freedom and equality.
  • Pluralistic system, multiple groups can compete for power.
  • Independent judiciary is required for liberal democracy to function effectively.

Merits of liberal democracy:

  • Protects individual rights and freedoms against other individuals and state.
  • Rousseau said that freedom lies in being governed by laws that you decide.
  • Prevents abuse of power through a system of checks and balances.
  • State becomes sensitive to the needs and wants of the people. Amartya Sen famine example.
  • Empowers the deprived masses and causes decisions to be more rational.

Criticism of liberal democracy:

  • Rule of elites. Elite pluralism at best.
  • Participation by people is periodic.
  • Competitive populism. State becomes incapable of taking unpopular stands.
  • State may degenerate to majoritarian rule.
  • Jurgen Habermas. A Legitimation crisis as market excludes the poor but state must include the poor (votes) while also acting in a pro-elite fashion (due to strong lobby).
  • Iron law of oligarchy by Robert Michel.

Participatory Democracy

Involves active participation of people in the political process more directly than in a liberal democracy. In a liberal democracy, participation is reduced to periodic voting to choose leaders, here people dispose of the professional politicians and participate all the time. The distinction between civil society and government is removed here. Ex. Mohalla sabhas proposed by AAP government in Delhi. Social media has made this easier as it is possible to gauge public reaction and engagement with particular issues. Occupy movement is another example.


The concept originated from the membership of ancient Greek city states, the basic idea was that citizens enjoyed certain rights to the exclusion of other residents of the city. Today it means a full and responsible membership of the political community with reciprocal relations between the citizens and the state.

T H Marshall Citizenship implies membership of the political community i.e. Citizens treated equally with respect to their rights and duties. He defines three stages:

  • Civil rights. Equality before law, personal liberty, freedom of speech, thought & belief etc. Developed in England in 18th century.
  • Political rights. Right to hold political office, participate in elections, etc. Developed in 19th century.
  • Social & economic rights. Right to a certain level of social and economic welfare, etc. developed in the 20th century. This stage is most important according to Marshall. (Rising prominence with the coming of the 4th industrial revolution; black lives matter protests; tyranny of merit)

Anthony Giddens. He says that citizenship rights are in two main categories:

  • Civil & political rights won by the bourgeoisie in the struggle against the feudal order.
  • Socio-economic rights won by the proletariat in the struggle against the bourgeoisie.


  • Citizenship is a dynamic concept which has since expanded.
  • Marshall’s theory was patriarchal: now gender rights are increasingly being added. 4th wave feminism is highlighting structural gender biases in society.
  • Sexual rights, ethnic rights too are in effect now.
  • Green citizenship: plants and animals have a right to live as well.
  • Transnational citizenship has emerged in the EU. Schengen zone.
  • With the neo-liberal shift, the welfare state is increasingly on the decline.
  • The above view has been critiqued as income inequality is on the rise.

With increasing globalisation a new debate has emerged in the form of multi-culturalism v. universal citizenship (brexit debate). Proponents of UC argue that all citizens should have the same rights regardless of culture, religion, ethnicity, etc. as these are personal matters. Proponents of MC cry foul for their culture is being destroyed by outsiders. The middle line should be adopted with culture being saved as much as possible till the time it is in keeping with modern values.


Coined by a Frenchman to mean the science of ideas, it no longer adheres to its original meaning. Present meaning emerged in the mid-19th century with the works of Marx.

Marx says ideology refers to the ideas of the ruling class, which they use to justify the existing class structure, thus, it is a kind of false consciousness.

Antonio Gramsci. In his prison notebook, he wrote that coercion (through ideology) is not the only way that the ruling class use justify their rule. They also rule by the consent of the proletariat, this is called hegemony. Ideology is one of the tools of creating hegemony. Follows Marxist ideas to the logical end.Thus, the present meaning of ideology is that it represents a more or less coherent set of ideas that provide the basis for organised action which aims to pressure or change the existing system.

Karl Mannheim: He gave a distinction between ideologies.

Ideology is a thought system that usually serves to protect a particular social order and generally serves the purposes of the dominant class while utopia refers to an idealised representation of the future that implies the need for radical social change and thus, represents the interest of the oppressed class.Some ideologies represent the world view of entire society or even historic periods, he calls them total ideologies. Ex. liberalism is the total ideology of capitalism just as Marxism is for socialism. He further says that ideology is essential for collective action to be sustained over a period of time. In absence of a well-defined ideology, collective action degenerates into sporadic action rather than a sustained mobilisation.

Civil Society

The rise of capitalism gave rise to a social space outside the state consisting of private associations and contributing to morally-guided social change. Their function are:

  • They are a defence against excessive state power as well as a guard against atomised individualism, both of which lead to an authoritarian state.
  • Essential for debates, opinion sharing, and consensus building.
  • Social media is a powerful new tool for spreading of civil society reach. Fifth pillar.
  • With the growth of large monopolies, media has lost its autonomy. The 4th pillar of  democracy losing its power to challenge corporate views.
  • Rise of anomic civil society groups such as the Karni Sena, etc.

Hegel: said that while state represented a space of universal altruism, civil society represented a space of universal egoism.

Gramsci: said that civil society was a means of winning the consent of the ruled and creating a state of hegemony.


Collective action refers to emergent and minimally coordinated action by two or more people that is motivated by a desire to change certain aspects of social life or resist the changes proposed by others.

Protests are collective challenges to the status quo which are:

  • Directed towards authorities.
  • Generally restricted to local issues.When the gather critical momentum for mass participation they become protest movements.

Such protest/movements generally involve marginalised groups which lack the ability to achieve change through institutional means. Thus, resort to emergent collective action. In a democracy due to the freedom to protest, they are generally more frequent but less violent (lack of structural strain; Patidar reservation) as compared to other forms of government, where there are less frequent and more violent (Arab Spring/Tian'anmen Square Protests).

Protests which become emotionally charged and are high on violence are termed as agitations.

When collective action oriented towards change (or resisting it) is sustained over a long period, has an organized structure and leadership, and is guided by an ideology then it is called a social movement.

Thus, prerequisites for social movements are:

  • Coordination group and leadership. (for sustaining long term action)
  • Ideology. (for general orientation towards authorities and civil society)

Genesis of a Social Movement

When a group of people relatively unhappy with their objective conditions and feel deprived in relation to their reference group, they begin to develop a change orientation in order to challenge the status quo. This is known as the relative deprivation theory for genesis of social movements.

Marx says that only in a capitalist society with all its comforts appropriated by the bourgeoisie can a proletariat revolution occur.

Ted Robert Gurr says in Why Men Rebel that there are 3 types of relative deprivation:

  • Aspirational Deprivation: when capabilities = expectation but over time expectations go up. Ex father used a cycle but now son wants a car, capabilities are the same but aspirations are different.
  • Decremental Deprivation: when capabilities = expectation but over time capabilities go down. Ex during inflation, due to collapse of the buying power of money people are unable to afford what they normally can, therefore resulting in more frequent protests during times of high inflation.
  • Progressive Deprivation: over time expectations increase and capabilities go down, this is the most acute sense of deprivation.

While Gurr articulated the cause of negative emotions, he doesn’t account for the emergence of collective action. Thus, relative deprivation is itself an insufficient condition for social movement.

Neil J Smelsor proposed the structural strain theory. He gave 6 conditions that determine the genesis and career of a social movement:

  1. Structural conduciveness. Social conditions should be such that they promote or atleast tolerate a social movement. Ex. dissenting opinions by SC judges is an example of structural conduciveness to opposing view points.
  2. Structural strain. Refers to dysfunction in society i.e. some sections must feel relative deprivation leading to conflict in society.
  3. Common ideology.
  4. Coordination group/Leadership.
  5. Precipitating event.
  6. Exercise of controls by state.Career of a social movement is defined by the reaction of authority.

It has been suggested that the success of movements also depends on the ability of the participants to mobilise resources. (Gandhi said that mass movements couldn’t be sustained for long as people’s capacity for sacrifice was limited) These are:

  • Moral resources, reputation for integrity. Presence (Ex Anna Hazare) gives legitimacy to the movement.
  • Cultural resources, special knowledge. Addressing the press, media management, mobilising protestors, etc.
  • Material resources. Money, food, etc.
  • Human resources. Crowds, volunteers, etc.

Career of a Movement

Zald Ash/Herbert Blumer: In their study they identified the stages of a movement:

  • Unrest stage. Structural strain is present.
  • Excitement stage. Unrest becomes focused.
  • Ideology appears identifying the cause of unrest.
  • Proposals for action are debated.
  • Formalization stage. Leadership emerges.
  • Program of action is decided upon.
  • Organization is put in place.
  • Strategy and tactics are worked out.

After this the movement begins in earnest. As the flexibility and creativity of the movement die out, institutionalization of functions begins. A bureaucracy takes over. Over time it changes to a rigidly organised party and the movement dissolves. Ash and Blumer say that marginalised/malintegrated people are the ones who initiate a movement. That is to say people who are looking for a goal or are bored shitless.

Types of Movements (Change orientation is often used to classify movements)

Neil J Smelsor gave a two fold classification:

  • Value oriented. Question the basic values of existing social order. Ex. Black lives matters in US.
  • Norm oriented. Focus on specific aspects that they want changed or not changed. Pro-choice movement in Poland.

MSA Rao gave three kinds:

  • Reformative. Limited change in gradual and peaceful ways. Ex banning sati, temple entry movements, etc.
  • Transformative. Major changes which may be violent. Ex ending colonial rule, millenarian movements, etc.
  • Revolutionary. Drastic and complete overhaul. Ex Russian revolution of 1917.


This word acquired a distinct meaning after the French revolution. A sudden, violent change in the political system that leads to extra political transformation also. In such changes, generally, mass participation is involved.

A typology of revolutions has been developed based on comparative study:

  • Social revolution. Rapid and basic transformation of society’s state and class structure. Accompanied with class based revolt from below. Ex. French, Russian, Chinese, Cuban, Iranian.
  • Political revolution. Involve a change in holders of power through mass participation but w/o deep socio-eco transformation. Ex. Arab spring.
  • Revolution from above. Power capture by the elite with/out use of military power and then followed by radical transformation of state. Ex. Nasser in Egypt, Ataturk in Turkey, Deng Xiaoping in China, etc.
  • Anti-Colonial revolution. Anti-colonial struggle followed by deep socio economic transformation.
  • Failed revolution. Ex. Salvador Allende in Chile.

Factors Leading to Revolution

Marx: Homogenisation, pauperisation and polarisation theses. Revolution inevitable.
Lenin: There must be mass discontent, and a conscious vanguard party which needs to capture power to create a socialist society. Power is captured by taking control of the administrative apparatus of the state.
Mao Zedong: Mass discontent of the peasants which can be harnessed by the vanguard party to capture political power through armed struggle.
Crain Brinton/LP Edwards. Tried to identify a set pattern for revolutions to occur.

  • Desertion of ruling elite by the intelligentsia. (Pen is mightier than the sword?)
  • A crisis of state develops where existing regime installs reforms but fails to resolve the crisis, thereby making a political solution of the problems all but impossible.
  • Revolutionary coalitions capture power at this point.

Theeda Skocpol: She says that the necessary condition for revolution is a major crises in multiple spheres of the existing state. If the state is still strong while in crisis, then no level of mass mobilisation will lead to revolution. However, if alongside a crisis, economic and military problems arise, then revolution is possible.

John Foran- Comparative study of 36 revolutions worldwide. He identified the causes as:

  • Uneven development cornered by a select few.
  • Repressive and exclusionary state.
  • Political culture of oppression.
  • Economic downturn.
  • First world countries withdrawing support. (Post WWII era)

Consequences of Revolution

  • Leads to strengthening of state machinery. Ex. Erdogan presidency became stronger after a failed coup attempt against the President.
  • State becomes strong and centralised leading to loss of political freedoms.
  • Socio-economic conditions improve drastically, with initiatives such as education, healthcare, and employment for all.

Social Media

According to Zeynep Tufecki

  1. Reformation of the public sphere online. (Habermas: public sphere is a collection of private individuals coming together as a public and articulating the needs of the society with the state)
  2. Alters the spatial and temporal structure of society.
  3. As a means of organising material, cultural and human resources.
  4. As an accelerant for already existing social strain.
  5. Rise of organised political abuse.
  6. Governmental use: flooding with distracting content, disinformation, platform marginalisation.

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