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Chapter 16

SOC100H5 Chapter Notes - Chapter 16: Elite Theory, Big Business, Power Balance

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Chapter 18: Politics and Social Movements
Power: the ability of an individual or a group to impose its will on others,
even if they resist
o The power of a group may be widely recognized as legitimate or valid
under circumstances if it is, power becomes legitimate authority
People who occupy the command posts of institutions are seen
as authorities
o When power flows to non-authorities it undermines the legitimacy of
Non-authorities form social movements
Collective attempts to change part or all of the social
May riot, petition, strike, demonstrate, and establish
pressure groups, unions, and political parties to achieve
their aims
Normal politics: politics as it is practised when authorities are firmly in
Politics beyond the rules: politics as it is practised when the legitimacy of
authority is weak
Power from Above: Normal Politics
The use of force by authorities is a sign of their weakness
o If authorities are truly in a position of strength, their rule will be
widely recognized as legitimate
o Will not need to use force to impose their will because most people
agree with their policies
o Politics will be routine, nonviolent or normal
Most part today, Canadian politics is normal politics
Power is exercised in all social settings
o Ultimate seat of power in society is the state
o State: a set of institutions that formulate and carry out a country’s
laws, policies, and binding regulations
o State power ultimate because authority stands above all others
Job of the government to initiate policies, propose laws and see that they are
o Executive branch of the state
o Proposed laws are turned into operating statutes by the legislature,
which consists of all the people elected to Parliament
o Responsibility of the judiciary or court system to interpret laws and
o State’s administrative apparatus or bureaucracy undertakes
enforcement of laws

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o If laws are broken or the state’s security is jeopardized, it is the role of
the coercive apparatus (police, military) to enforce the law and
protect the state
State is a set of institutions that exercise control over society
o Individuals in civil society also exercise control over the state through
a variety of organizations and institutions
Social movements
Mass media
Pressure groups/lobbies
How democratic is the Canadian state?
Pluralist Theory
One interpretation of the relationship between state and civil society
We live in a heterogeneous society with many competing interests and
centres of power
o Because of this, no one group can control politics, according to the
o Argue that overtime all voters and interests influence the political
process almost equally
o Most often however politics involves negotiation and compromise
among competing groups
According to pluralists, because no one group of people is
always able to control the political agenda or the outcome of
political conflict, democracy is guaranteed
Elite Theory
C. Wright Mills
Elites: small group that occupy the command posts of a society’s institutions
Most powerful elites are the people who the country’s several hundred
biggest corporations, the executive branch of government, and the military
The men who control these institutions make the important decisions that
profoundly affect members of society
o Do so without much regard for elections or public opinions
Showed how the corporate, state, and military elites and interconnected
o People move from one elite to another over their careers
o Children intermarry
o Maintain intimate social contacts of a day to day basis
o Tend to be recruited from the upper-middle and upper classes
o Denied that these similarities and interconnections turn the three
elites into a ruling class
That is a self-conscious and cohesive group of people, led by
corporate executives and owners of big business, who act to
advance their common interests

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o Three elites independent of each other
May see eye to eye on many issues, but each has its own
jealously guarded sphere of influence and conflict between
elite groups is therefore common
The Elitist Critique of Pluralism
Most political sociologists today question the pluralist account of democratic
politics because research ahs established the existence of large, persistent,
wealth-based inequalities in political influence and political participation
Porter’s The Vertical Mosaic was the first in a series of Canadian studies that
demonstrate the weakness of pluralism and corroborate some aspects of
elite theory
o Studies show that a disproportionately large number of people in
Canada’s political and other elites come from upper and upper middle
class families
o Arguably people with this sort of background cannot act
dispassionately on behalf of all Canadians rich and poor
Controversy still persist over whether Canada’s elites form a ruling class
o Porter noting frequent conflict among elites argued against the view
that a ruling class controls Canada
Top students disagreed
Argued that the interests of large corporations dominate
Canadian political life
Both agreed: contrary to pluralists claims, Canada’s well to do
consistently exercise disproportionate influence over political
life in this country
Studies of political participation in Canada add weight to the elitist view
o Surveys show that political involvement decreases with social class
o As intensity of political participation declines so does political
The Marxist Critique of Elite Theory
Known as instrumentalists, deny that elites enjoy more or less equal power
o Elites enjoy more or less equal power
o Elites form a ruling class dominated by big business
From their point of view the state is an arm (or instrument) of the business
o Big business gains control of the state in three main ways
First members of wealthy families occupy important state
positions in highly disproportionate numbers
Second, government officials rely mainly on the
representatives of big business for advice
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