The main purpose of this article is to place the disciplinary relationships between political sociology and political economy in a proper framework Such an endeavor is prompted by some recent conflations between these two disciplines. The main of these conflations is the attempt to transform political sociology into the new political economy in the sense of the economic or rational choice approach to politics. In consequence, sociologists seem to be in a danger of losing political sociology to economists embarking on such attempts. The article reconsiders these attempts, by identifying and examining the theoretical-methodological differences between political sociology and the new political economy. These differences are illustrated by a comparative application of their approaches to specific political processes, such as US. presidential elections. Since there exists a certain gap in recognizing and investigating such differences in the current literature, the key contribution of this article is to help fill in this void.
For contemporary political sociologists, the question often arises as to whether their discipline is in the risk of mutating into the "new" political economy advanced by economists and others in sociology. In particular, "we need to examine the degree to which this is a factor in the loss of political sociology [to political economists] which our discipline created and once dominated" (Light, 1992:909)1. This paper reappraises this situation, by focusing on the disciplinary relations between political sociology and the "new" political economy.
Certain economists and sociologists propose transforming or subsuming political sociology and its sub-disciplines (e.g., the theory of bureaucracy) into the "new" political economy or the rational choice theory of politics (Buchanan, 1978; Coleman, 1986; Kiser and Hechter, 1991; Moe, 1997). To take just one example, the "new" political economists particularly target the classical sociological conception of bureaucratic organization. Arguably, many "barriers to theory stand out [a major one of which] is organizational theories from [political] sociology and social psychology, which have not pointed a way out of the thicket" (Moe, 1997:455). The alleged "sin" of these theories, as epitomized by Weber's works, is conceiving organizational actors, especially bureaucrats, as what the "new" political economists label "economic eunuchs" (Buchanan, 1978:11). Joining the chorus of the "new" political economists, rational choice sociologists also "excommunicate" the traditional sociological conception of bureaucracy and organization for such a conceptual "sin". Allegedly, the "theory of formal organization has been burdened by [such] a conceptual flaw deriving from Weber's theory of bureaucracy" (Coleman,1990b:94).
By comparison with such reductionist attempts reflecting what most political economists hail as "virtues", and other scholars suspect as "vices" of economic imperialism, endeavors to establish proper relations between political sociology and political economy have appeared infrequently. In such an endeavor (Braungart-Braungart, 1990), political economy is considered a branch of political sociology--the other branches being the sociology of the state and the politics of the state--rather than vice versa. Political economy thus understood is defined as an inquiry into the bearing of government on the economy as well as on society and culture, by identifying and evaluating the sociocultural and economic effects of state policies and practices. Hence the "state represents the independent or intervening variable while society [or the economy] is the dependent variable" (Braungart-Braungart, 1990:xi).
In another endeavor in this regard, some analysts contrast the economic approach of politics, as advanced by the new political economy, with a sociological model as found in political sociology. For example, Udehn (1996) singles out the limits …