Political sociology explores the relationship between politics proper and the social setting in which it exists. This approach goes back at least to Montesquieu, who in the middle of the 18th century saw the difference between ‘monarchy’ and ‘republic’ as a difference between the sensibilities of people who lived under these regimes. Many of the great figures of social thought have adopted this approach to ‘democracy’, and asked about the ‘types of human being’ and modes of associational life that best sustain it.
One thread of the module is the paradox of democracy: everyone has the right to participate, but most lack the inclination, because of the time needed to earn a living. Against this background we will assess the more overtly participatory forms of politics that emerged in the 20th century, from party politics that allows anyone to become a professional politician, to the ‘total mobilization’ of society in Nazi Germany, nationalism, and recent waves of populism.
A second thread is this: the 20th century saw the expansion of the state’s capacity to shape the character of societies and of people living in them. Totalitarian regimes made the most overt use of this capacity but all modern states have done so to an extent. Yet in the 21st century this capacity has been challenged by the superior data gathering and application capacities of the big tech companies.
Exploring these themes will allow us to assess the place politics has or should have in a human life.