The Dynamics of American Politics: Approaches and Interpretations

By Lawrence C. Dodd; Calvin Jillson | Go to book overview

12
Group Politics Reexamined: From Pluralism to Political Economy

CLARENCE N. STONE

Once regarded as the centerpiece of American political science, the study of group politics has been accorded a more modest position in recent years. Researchers now equate groups with organized interests and see them as relatively weak participants in the governmental process ( Bauer, Pool, and Dexter, 1963; Scholzman and Tierney, 1986). What I want to suggest in this essay is that the group basis of politics refers to something broader and deeper than the activity of organized interest groups. As Philip Selznick says, all societies face the same basic problem, "the same need for an accommodative balance between fragmentary group interests and the aims of the whole" ( 1957:9; cf. Lowi, 1979; Schwartz, 1988). Selznick's point is not that politics is only about group conflict. Quite the contrary, his message is, among other things, about how political freedom and group conflict accommodate one another. I will return to this important theme later.

For now I want to lay some foundation stones for the discussion. First, the group basis of politics involves more than how individuals tactically aggregate themselves in the pursuit of personal aims. It is about group identities and social purposes; it is also about a tendency for individuals to define themselves, their goals, and therefore their interests by making connections that are direct and immediate rather than inclusive.

Second, "interests" are not dictated by positions in a network of social and economic roles. We should not reduce politics to a form of social determinism. Instead, we should see group politics and the nation's institutional arrangements as reciprocally related (cf. Schlozman and Tierney, 1986:390-391). Institutions, however, include more than those of the formal governmental system; the political economy is the appropriate context for considering group-institution interactions.

David Truman defines an interest group as "any group that, on the basis of one or more shared attitudes" makes policy claims ( 1951:33). I pro

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