Central European University

Political Sociology, Autumn 2015 (4 Credits, M.A.)

This course surveys the development of the field of political sociology.  We will first discuss some of the work of Karl Marx, whose writings on politics and the state were not well developed, but which proved to be greatly influential throughout the twentieth century. Max Weber’s broad comparative work on law, politics and the state offered the first comprehensive framework for the sociological study of power and historical forms of domination.

However, the writings of Marx and Weber did not yet constitute a consciously defined subfield of study.  In the 1970s a new generation of young theorists rediscovered Marx (and Antonio Gramsci), and of equal importance, identified the state as an object of inquiry unto itself.  Moving away from explaining the rise of political regimes (e.g. dictatorship or democracy) as had been the case during the Cold War era, Nicos Poulantzas, Ralph Miliband, Fred Block, and Clause Offe sought to identify the nature of the capitalist state and its contradictions.  

Shortly thereafter, in the 1980s, a new crop of scholars found that the Marxist view of the modern state as primarily a condensation of capitalist relations was partial.  Scholars such as Theda Skocpol, Michael Mann, and Charles Tilly rather turned to Max Weber’s corpus in order to explain the autonomous influence of state bureaucrats, the specific institutional matrix of a state, and the relationship between war-making and state-making in the Global North.  Later work by scholars such as Suad Joseph, Mara Loveman, and Miguel Centeno has applied Weberian categories to make sense of state development outside the Global North.

Gøsta Esping-Andersen’s work on the development of distinct welfare state regimes put the comparative study of welfare states on the map, a field which exploded during the 1990s.  Feminist critiques of Marxist theories of the state, and of theories of welfare state development followed suit.  Catharine MacKinnon and Wendy Brown sought to theorize the “male” or “masculinist” state, while Ann Orloff showed the blind spots in Esping-Andersen’s typology of welfare regimes.  Increased attention was also paid to the relationship between race, ethnicity, and the state, a focus which dovetails with analyses of gender and the state.

Finally, as of the 1990s, the transition to post-socialist states in the CEE region led theorists to reconsider some of the assumptions of Western European-oriented theories of state-building.  At the same time, welfare state retrenchment and neoliberal policy began unfolding globally, raising questions as to what is the nature of the neoliberal state (Bob Jessop), the institutional paths and limits to retrenchment (Paul Pierson), and the extent of state neoliberalization around the world, including in countries such as India (Poulami Roychowdhury).



Course syllabus available here.