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.
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