When discussing the subject of elites sociologists are referring to small groups that may or may not exist at the top of the social hierarchy. This includes the state and the government, as well as communities, tribes and clans. However, various debates exist in sociology as to the power, authority and influence that such elite groups possess. Pluralist sociologists suggest that power ultimately derives from the population as a whole and that at different times, different people have power.
They regard like Weber’s two types of power and argue that the exercise of power through the state should be legitimate not coercive because the Government and State should act in the interests of society and according to the wishes of its members. This means that power has to be based upon the acceptance and co-operation of the population. Pluralists also accept a constant sum of power, and argue that power is distributed throughout society; there is evidence of this through pressure groups. Pressure groups boast strong influence on the political processes e. g.
Countryside Alliance and Fathers for Justice (F4J). This is rejecting Parsons, a functionalist’s view that there is a variable sum concept of power, which see it as a resource held by society as a whole, the exercise of which benefits everyone. Pluralists also criticise Functionalists by arguing that not all democratic societies have an comprehensive value consensus, meaning that although generally members of society share the same interests, often they are conflicting because of their social group and that because of this, political leaders cannot reflect the interests of all the population.
Dahl’s (1961) study of New Haven, Connecticut looked at the way decisions were made about various political issues. He found there were a number of differing groups were influential at different times. This study supports the Pluralist perspective and also provides a critique of Marxism, as Dahl claims that there is evidential proof that local politics was a business of compromise, with no one group dominating decision making. However, Engel’s argues that democracy is an illusion and society is falsely led to believe that politics is based around ‘people power’.
This traditional Marxist view largely supports the idea Britain is governed by a single ruling elite because there is no variation in British politics; there are only two parties likely to win the general election. The strongest parties in Britain are Labour and Conservative, however, Liberal Democrats provide a third strong party who are less likely to ever get into power. Another Marxist argument supporting the view that Britain is governed by a single ruling elite is that the two parties have very similar policies, due to restrictions in the system, this is called ideological convergence.