Political sociology is a division of the social sciences that focuses on political groups and leadership within society. More generally, it is the study of the relationship between politics and society. While there is debate as to the precise nature of the discipline’s proper focus, most experts agree that the idea of power — i.e., who holds, wields, achieves, and seeks power, particularly within the state and/or civil society — is a fundamental concern of political sociology.
The relationship between the state and civil society is often seen as a key point of study because of the constant interplay and power struggle between the two groups. In general, the concept of the state takes the form of government and centralized power, most often denoted by its militarized and legislative authority, while civil society often refers to organizations such as businesses, churches, and unions. Also of consideration is the role of the individual and the concept and interplay of power between the state and civil society.
The principal theories within political sociology include social class theory, elite theory, and pluralism. Social class theory is often associated with Marxist theory, in which power is examined in terms of which societal class controls the prevailing means of economic production. Elite theory is a theory in which power is viewed as being concentrated in elite groups and societies. In pluralism, power is seen to be spread and shared throughout society and institutions.
The term political sociology first appeared in print in 1905 in a book review of Alleyne Ireland's "The Far Eastern Tropics." Its roots stretch into the nineteenth century, however, where its founders are generally recognized to be Moisey Ostrogorsky and Max Weber. Ostrogorsky was a Belorussian political scientist and sociologist renowned for his theories on party systems and political parties. Weber was a German historian, sociologist, and political economist known for his influence on social theory.
In addition, because of his intensive investigations into socioeconomic systems and class struggles, Karl Marx is often linked to political sociology particularly in terms of his theory of economic determinism. Political sociology as a field of study in the United States peaked in the 1960s and 1970s. Today, concentrations in sociology tend toward the study of minorities, sex, and gender.