A Functionalist Account: Pluralist Theory
Pluralist theory holds that power is widely dispersed. As a result, no group enjoys
disproportionate influence, and decisions are usually reached through negotiation and
Pluralists believed that democracies were heterogeneous societies with many competing
interests and centres of power.
Pluralists follow the functionalist script. They view political systems as an institution that helps
society achieve goals and interests in the process of integrating members and keeping
Elite theorists disagreed with the pluralist account. They argued that groups with opposing goals
and interests confront each other in the political arena and that while conflict is not always
overt it is never far below the surface of political affairs. Powerful groups have more control
over less powerful.
C.Wright Mills defined elites as small groups that occupy the command posts of a society’s most
Mills showed how the corporate, state and military (3 forms of institutions) are connected.
People move from one elite group to another during their careers. Children intermarry and tend
to be recruited from upper middle and upper classes.
Mills denied that these connections turn the three elites into what Marx called a ruling class
which is a self conscious and cohesive group of people, led by big corporate shareholders who
act to shore up capitalism.
Marxists are critics of elite theory.
One group of Marxists known as instrumentalists denies that elites enjoy more or less equal
power. They say elites form a ruling class dominated by big business. From their point of view,
the state is an arm(instrument) of the business elite.