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About this book

Under present social conditions, neither social theorists nor political scientists can afford to ignore one another. This book is a clear, structured account of the relationship between politics and social theory, examining both the political content of social theory, and how social theory has illuminated our understanding of politics.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
From the nineteenth century to the present day, what we call social theorising has inevitably involved political analysis. Issues such as the role of the state, the nature of power and resistance, and the political means of social transformation are integral to understanding society. Despite this, I remain surprised at how sociologists and political scientists can regard each other’s subjects as alien species. While sociologists are often deeply enmeshed in broad political questions, they can be reluctant to engage with mainstream political ideas and practices. At the same time, there is no shortage of political scientists who treat the whole idea of the social with deep suspicion: a half-baked realm of woolly theories and jargon about the next big ‘change’ (typically ending in the letters ‘isation’). This is seen to detract from the business of understanding the machinations of elite actors, political institutions and the role of political ideas.
Will Leggett

1. The Society–Politics Relation: On the Inescapably Social and the Irreducibly Political

Abstract
This chapter stakes out the significance of the society–politics relation, developing a framework for theorising both it and its empirical manifestations. This framework will be returned to throughout the book, but the intention is that it can also be taken away and applied more widely. At its heart are two key categories: what I label the ‘inescapably social’ and the ‘irreducibly political’ elements of any analysis of social and political phenomena. The inescapably social refers to the prior and ongoing social context that frames political activity. This includes historically produced social structures, institutions, norms and values, social relations and patterned practices. The irreducibly political denotes how those very social phenomena themselves are shot through with political activity: the play of interests, the role of decision-making and contestation over material and symbolic resources. These broad categories are useful in characterising how social theory orients itself to political analysis. In particular, the analytical distinction between the social and the political enables examination of their interplay, theoretically or empirically, identifying where one or the other might predominate and the implications of this.
Will Leggett

2. Politics From Above: The State and Governance

Abstract
This chapter begins our examination of social theory and substantive areas of politics. It considers the role of the state: the main site of political analysis ‘from above’. The state has been central to political science and political sociology, understood through a core of three broad classic perspectives. The most closely related of these are those which focus on the role of elites in controlling the state (Evans, 2006; Parry, 1969), and a Marxist tradition which, while also interested in elites, understands the state in the context of wider capitalist social and economic relations (Hay, 2006; Jessop, 2004). The third, pluralist tradition, sees the state as a relatively neutral body or arena: this reflects and can resolve competing social interests, with no outright capture by any particular group (Smith, 2006). The Marxist perspective has the most overlap with traditions in social theory, and will be taken up in more detail here. However, the other classic political science approaches also contain a social referent, supporting the argument made in Chapter 1 concerning the inescapably social in political analysis. Thus, pluralist theory is predicated on the fact of social complexity and diversity: it is this which necessitates a pluralist polity. And even elite theory, which foregrounds the qualities and strategies of power-seeking agents, acknowledges the socialisation of elites themselves, as well as the social mechanisms through which they are able to exercise control (Bellamy, 2004).
Will Leggett

3. Politics From Below: Political Identity and Participation

Abstract
The previous chapter showed how social theory’s preoccupation with macro social change lends itself to analysis of major institutions such as the state. In this chapter, we shift our focus to the nature of the political Self and political identity. Macro social theory can seem far removed from individual subjectivity and its political possibilities. Despite this, it has had a great deal to say about the fate of the individual in modern societies. This is the part of the sociological imagination that C. Wright Mills (1959: 14) identified as being concerned with ‘the personal troubles of milieu’, in addition to ‘the public issues of social structure’. Indeed, in recent decades questions of individual identity have become central to the discipline.
Will Leggett

4. Politics All Around: Culture, Ideology and Discourse

Abstract
The previous two chapters considered the role of social theory in analysing politics ‘from above’ in the form of the state and governance, and ‘from below’ in the political identities and behaviours of individual citizens. In each case a crucial ingredient was the role of the ideational: ideas, norms, values, culture. We saw in Chapter 2 how these provide a framework of meaning through which the state is legitimised in the eyes of citizens, or through which state actors themselves come to understand their operating environment (for example as being globalised). In Chapter 3 we witnessed the central role of norms and values in providing citizens with a sense of their political subjectivity, and mobilising them towards political action. In the present chapter we elaborate on these aspects by focusing in detail on how social theorists have understood the political role of culture and, in particular, of ideology and discourse.
Will Leggett
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