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November 8, 2008 / C H Thompson

Theories of the state (pluralist)

Competing theories of the state

As with all aspects of sociology there’s no agreement between academics over complex areas of society, and theories about the state are no different. So we’ll now look at competing theories of the state starting with pluralist theories.

Pluralist theories of the state

Pluralists see the state as a mechanism which represents all the interests of every member of the state, in our case the UK state, and it works because it is not possible for the political process to directly represent the views of every single member of society as modern societies are so complex. Therefore a plurality of pressure groups acts as a representative voice for all members of society.

Davey and O’Leary say there are three pluralist views of the stateweathervane

1.       The weathervane model – this sees the state as acting like a weathervane by reflecting public opinion. For example if enough members of the public wanted to bring back hanging and Parliament decided to re-introduce because of public opinion then the state was acting like a weathervane by reacting to public opinion (via pressure groups). The question is, is Parliament viewed as being proactive or reactive?

2.       The neutral state model – this model is dismissive of the above as it says the state gets more involved as it acts as a referee between the refcompeting groups. It does this by listening to all the views on an issue and then makes a decision. An example of this is the current issue over whether to have nuclear power stations to generate our electricity. The state’s decision is made on balance from assessing all the competing points of view and coming to a workable compromise. Therefore compared to the ‘weathervane mode’ the state is far more active.

3.       The broker-state model – sees the competing groups in society as having their own agenda which reflect their particular issues. Therefore the state simply negotiates (brokers) between the vested interests of these groups and creates policies which satisfy the these groups while at the brokersame time reflecting the concerns of state officials. The best examples of this occur in Denmark, Norway and Sweden where there are regular meetings between strategic elites such as business leaders, unions and agricultural leaders in deciding the government’s economic policy.



Leave a Comment
  1. Meya Mwikisa / Jun 24 2015 5:58 am

    Isn’t this perspective sort ofproving the Marxist view of the state as an instrument of oppression.

    • C H Thompson / Jun 24 2015 3:55 pm

      Indeed it is.

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