Political sociology is concerned with the way social structure impinges on and shapes politics. Social structure denotes the commonalities and antagonisms of individuals that are rooted in shared experiences at the workplace, religion, gender, and membership in various other social groups. Classical examples of political sociology approaches are Stein Rokkan’s macro-historical account of cleavage and party system formation in West Europe, as well as Paul Lazarsfeld’s Columbia school in the study of voting behavior, which relies on a survey methodology to analyze the social roots of politics. Thus, in the field of political sociology is characterized by a methodological pluralism, the methodological approach being defined by a the specific research question at hand.
Political sociology is interested primarily in social relationships that entail power and privilege. These differences are sometimes perceived and politicized, but just as often, they are kept outside the realm of politics due to the prevalence of traditional social norms, clientelist exchanges, or narratives that act to de-politicize social differences – even if these differences are empirical facts. The research conducted in this group aims to overcome the social structural determinism inherent in some applications of political sociology by marrying a structural approach with a focus on agency.
The questions that can be asked from such a perspective are varied: Social location impinges not only on voting behavior, but also on the preference for democracy or autocratic forms of government, and is relevant to a myriad of other research questions.