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).
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