Political Parties: A Relational Approach

Stephanie L. Mudge, University of California, Davis

This paper advocates for two moves in the sociology of political parties—one conceptual, and one analytical. First, I argue that the political party can be usefully conceptualized as a relational network of actors that is riven by three distinct, irreducible, and potentially irreconcilable action-orientations: representation, power-seeking and truth-claiming. Second, I argue that the sociology of parties should take as one of its basic aims the explanation of variation in the way parties see and represent the world—which requires, also, resuscitating historical concerns in party scholarship with experts and expertise. In order to avoid a return to the vexed question of the “intellectual,” however, I build a case for a “formation stories” approach aimed at historical and comparative understanding of variation in the biographical trajectories and professional ethics of people in and around parties who formulate programmatic language. Taken together, I make the case for a synthetic, relational, refraction approach to the analysis of political parties that situates the explanation of how and for whom (or what) parties speak on par with other longstanding explanatory concerns—namely, how parties express or “reflect” the perspectives and demands of particular groups; the relationship between parties, knowledge, and expertise; how (or if) parties drive the formation or “articulation” of political interests and identities; the party-economy relationship; and relations between parties, states, social movements, and represented publics.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 144. Theoretical Perspectives on Political Parties