Political sociology is the sociology of politics. It may be defined as the systematic and empirical study of political phenomena and organisations as they influence social life and social structures and are, in turn influenced by them. In short, it studies the influence of politics on society and of the society on politics.
Political sociology has a very long history, going as far back as Aristotle, Ibn Khaldun, Montesquieu, Karl Marx, de Tocqueville, Lord Bryce, Max Weber, Graham Wallas, Mosca and Wright Mills. For instance, Marx (1818-1883) was the first to study class conflicts and social stratification on the basis of economic means and methods of production. Max Weber (1864-1920) the German Sociologist emphasised the role of religion and politics on the growth of new social systems, while sociologists like the Italian Mosca and the American Wright Mills studied the role of political elites and the processes of consensus and conflict in society. However, the term “political sociology” first came into use in 1945. Since then, political sociology has become an empirical study of actual political behaviour of the voters, political leaders or elites, attitude research, etc. It studies political institutions, both formal and informal, as parts of the social system, and not as separate from die society, in which they operate. Broadly speaking, political sociology studies the following problems:
(i) Political conflict and consensus in human society;
(ii) Social stratification, influencing and being influenced by politics;..
(iii) Various kinds of elites and their influence on social life;
(iv) Alienation: and its social, economic and political origins; Voting behaviour and its effects on political parties;
(v) Political parties;
(vi) Interest or pressure groups.
(vii) Ideologies, their rise and influence on politics and society.
Conflict and consensus approach of political sociology gives us two views of its influence on politics and society. Karl Marx was the first to emphasise the role of class conflicts in the evolution of society. According lo him, when new means and methods of production come into being, they produce a new class, which comes into conflict with the older classes still in possession of the old productive forces and relations in the society. But when it overthrows the old classes, it transforms the whole society and culture. But the new society again gives birth to a new class due to new technology and methods of production. As opposed to Marxist sociology, the consensual political sociology declares that with the growth of industry, a middle class comes into being, which harmonises the interests of the working classes with industrial classes and thus produce consensus in the society.
Political sociology, in present timCs, has concentrated attention on the study of elite groups, especially political elites, their membership and influence on social, political and economic relations and processes. Analysis of the elites is also closely connected with questions of political leadership, party organisation and political power. An interesting type of elite group is the military elites. Military leaders have Always influenced political and social life of the nations and countries in all ages. In modem times, military elites have joined hands with industrial, religious and other social groups and thus control political power and economic resources of (heir States.
Political parties are also studied and analysed by the political sociologists. As political parties penetrate all aspects of modem State and society, their organisation and influence are important parts of the research by political sociologists. R.Michels, a political sociologist, asserted in his book, Political Parties, that in every party there are always some individuals or leaders who will dominate it. He called it the “iron law of oligarchy”. He asserts that where there is organisation, there (s oligarchy. He thus sought to prove that even representative institutions, like modem political parties, cannot be democratic.
Even democracies will be dominated by elite groups. However, elite analysis has now shifted to the problems of elite behaviour, which is influenced by the way they are recruited and thus acquire opportunities for control and promotion. In present times, the political and party elites are selected on the criterion of achievement rather than on the basis of birth, status, wealth or social background, as was the case in the past ages.
Alienation is another important topic of political sociology, both theoretical and research-oriented. Alienation is a socio-psychological phenomenon. It means a tendency to withdraw or disengage from political affairs and problems and to be reluctant to participate in politics or in political activities. It is a form of political apathy. Alienation is manifested by various social groups during certain periods, such as youth, minorities, intellectuals, etc.
It may be due to the structure of political or social life. For instance, in male-dominated traditional societies, women show political apathy and disinterest in politics. Marx was the first writer to study alienation. But he believed that it was permanent State of mind of certain groups, such as of the working classes in the capitalist society. In modern times, however, alienation is regarded as an attitude, which changes when social or political system changes. Alienation leads to various kinds of political movements and revolts, which aim at bringing about a change in the political system which has alienated the majority of the people.
Voting behaviour of the people is another important field of research and empirical studies in political sociology. These studies have indicated that, under ordinary circumstances and conditions, die voting behaviour of the people does not change and that the people are very conservative in their political attitudes and loyalties to political parties and ideologies. But their voting behaviour changes in times of social or political crisis.
To conclude, political sociology has revealed close links and interdependence between society and politics, that is to say, between the social, economic and psychological conditions and attitudes, on the one side, and political organisations and processes, on the other, and that political systems, governments and political parties are not so self- subsistent and independent phenomena as they were believed to be in the past ages.