Cardiff University | Prifysgol Caerdydd ORCA
Online Research @ Cardiff 
WelshClear Cookie - decide language by browser settings

Political sociology

Eklundh, Emmy ORCID: and Turnbull, Nick 2015. Political sociology. Bevir, Mark and Rhodes, R. A. W., eds. Routledge Handbook of Interpretive Political Science, London: Routledge, pp. 298-308. (10.4324/9781315725314-30)

Full text not available from this repository.


Political sociology is the study of power in society. Interpretive political sociology is the study of how power in society is constructed and distributed through language and other symbols. It emphasizes how power relationships are negotiated through discourse and the subjective interpretations of that discourse by individuals. Rather than accepting institutional rules or political behaviour as the basis of organized power, interpretivists look towards the production of meaning as the key to understanding power in society. As such, interpretive theory in this field is grounded in constructivist, idealist, or post-foundational epistemologies. Empirical research brings out how power is embodied in discourse by focusing on the qualitative study of language, symbols, and culture, rather than institutional rules and quantitative accounts of preferences. Interpretive political sociology explains that the meanings produced by linguistic and symbolic exchanges involve power relations which shape societies, the identities of their members, and the mediated relations between them. It explains how power relations are formed through communication that makes political change meaningful. It also explains how language has a framing effect, contributing to the generation of lasting patterns of meaning, which are powerful forces upon society. Therefore, the production and interpretation of meanings spans both agency and structure. Interpretive political sociology is based on the idea that language is inherently amenable to different interpretations, which entails that stable meaning is an effect of power. Therefore, interpretive methods aim to problematize taken-for-granted reality. This normative dimension aims to open up new opportunities for social change through the agency made possible by interpretation. As yet, there is no discrete field called ‘interpretive political sociology’, so the aim of thischapter is to sketch an outline of it. Defining the field is itself an interpretive exercise, given the broad scope of political sociology in general and the many recent developments that have rendered problematic its central concepts, including cosmopolitanism and globalization. The research objects of political sociology have changed – especially the primary relationship between governing state and civil society – necessitating new theory and methods to investigate them. Interpretive methods can be seen as a response to the demand for understanding this rapid social change. In terms of its scope, political sociology is a disciplinary octopus, its tentacles reaching ever outwards, taking in many other fields, including political science and sociology, but also economic sociology, cultural studies, governance and public policy, political economy, political psychology and state theory, among others. There are already manyexcellent handbooks and readers on political sociology in which one can source the variety of the subject (Amenta et al. 2012; Janoski et al. 2005; Nash 2010). Therefore, in this chapter we will limit ourselves to matters that most directly interest political scientists. We will highlight interpretive studies that represent an alternative to the mainstream behaviouralist and institutionalist perspectives employed most often in political science. And it is as an alternative that interpretive approaches have their innovative potential for political scientists. Political sociology is perhaps unusual in that, in its other disciplinary incarnations, interpretivism and constructivism are the norm, rather than the interlopers. Not all the approaches we discuss are strictly interpretivist, but all include interpretive elements, in that they deal with the analysis of discourse and culture. To simplify such a diverse field, the chapter is organized according to the degree of institutionalizedpower. As such, we commence with an analysis of the nation state, the most established form of social power. Here, the operation of power through the state is explained by examining the ways in which discourse and culture structures state-society relations. The next section considers the problematization of this power, particularly in the form of interpretive critiques of modernist conceptions of state-society relations and the changes promoted by globalization. In the third section, we discuss interpretive research on political parties, including anthropological and ethnographic studies, as well as discourse analyses. The fourth section concerns new social movements, in particular, how these actors pursue change by discursively reframing questions and generating new identities. Finally, we look at interpretive studies of the least organized politics, including clandestine organizations, riots, and new actors in the online, global civil society. In all sections, we aim to uncover how discourse approaches link with culture and practice.

Item Type: Book Section
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Department of Politics and International Relations (POLIR)
Subjects: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Publisher: Routledge
ISBN: 9780415657143
Last Modified: 07 Nov 2022 09:17

Actions (repository staff only)

Edit Item Edit Item