In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Political Sociology

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Handbooks
  • Data Sources
  • Journals
  • Classic Works
  • Power
  • Nationalism and the Nation-State
  • Development and the Developmental State
  • War, Violence, and Revolutionary Social Change
  • Civil Society
  • Democracy
  • Elections, Political Participation, and Public Opinion
  • Race, Ethnicity, and Politics
  • Gender and Politics
  • Class Inequalities and Politics
  • Culture and Politics
  • Contemporary Controversies and New Directions

Sociology Political Sociology
Jeff Manza
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 July 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0001


Political sociology is the study of power and the relationship between societies, states, and political conflict. It is a broad subfield that straddles political science and sociology, with “macro” and “micro” components. The macrofocus has centered on questions about nation-states, political institutions and their development, and the sources of social and political change (especially those involving large-scale social movements and other forms of collective action). Here, researchers have asked “big” questions about how and why political institutions take the form that they do, and how and when they undergo significant change. The micro orientation, by contrast, examines how social identities and groups influence individual political behavior, such as voting, attitudes, and political participation. While both the macro- and micro-areas of political sociology overlap with political science, the distinctive focus of political sociologists is less on the internal workings or mechanics of the political system and more on the underlying social forces that shape the political system. Political sociology can trace its origins to the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville, Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber, among others, but it only emerged as a separate subfield within sociology after World War II. Many of the landmark works of the 1950s and 1960s centered on microquestions about the impact of class, religion, race/ethnicity, or education on individual and group-based political behavior. Beginning in the 1970s, political sociologists increasingly turned toward macrotopics, such as understanding the sources and consequences of revolutions, the role of political institutions in shaping political outcomes, and large-scale comparative-historical studies of state development. Today both micro- and macroscholarship can be found in political sociology.


For beginning students, several introductory political sociology textbooks provide a more basic entrée to the field. While covering much of the same ground, these also vary somewhat in topics emphasized or covered. The most comprehensive introductory work, rare for giving significant attention to both micro- and macrotraditions in political sociology while still providing a discussion of theoretical classics, is that of Orum and Dale 2009. Neuman 2008 provides a comprehensive introduction to the field in terms of topics treated (although giving relatively little attention to microquestions). Nash 2007 focuses on globalization, gender dynamics, and political change. Lachmann (2010) provides a historically grounded introduction to the rise of states and the relationship between states and domestic power structures.

  • Lachmann, Richard. 2010. States and power. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2010.

    A wide-ranging survey of the rise of modern states across five continents, with a special focus on war-making and taxation that provides a key introduction to the macro-tradition in political sociology.

  • Nash, Kate. 2007. Contemporary political sociology: Globalization, politics, and power. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

    Focuses on gender issues and globalization factors, as well as examining how culture impacts politics, and how cultural analysis might be brought into political sociology.

  • Neuman, W. Lawrence. 2008. Power, state, and society: An introduction to political sociology. Waveland.

    Covers a wider range of topics than do other textbooks and introductions to political sociology, although it gives little attention to microquestions. Includes a chapter on the political sociology of policymaking.

  • Orum, Anthony, and John G. Dale. 2009. Political sociology: Power and participation in the modern world. 5th ed. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A strong single volume introduction to the field that covers classical theoretical writings in political sociology, along with both the macro and micro sides of the field. A chapter on urban power describes political sociological work on local contexts. Two chapters on social movements provide an excellent introduction to the field.

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