Power Elite, Bureaucracy and Pressure groups | Sociology for CUET by Vikash Ranjan | Sociology Guru

Power Elite, Bureaucracy and Pressure groups

(Relevant for Sociology optional for UPSC CSE)
Paper-1 ,Unit-7 : Power Elite, Bureaucracy and Pressure groups

Power Elite, Bureaucracy and Pressure groups

Power elite:

Discussed in the chapter of Sociological Theories of Power


Covered in Thinker’s Section

Pressure groups:

Theoretically a pressure group may be defined as any association, organization or group which seeks through a variety of methods to influence public policy and decisions at local, national, or international levels usually [but certainly not always] within a particular, quite limited sphere. We may note also that many pressure groups may in some circumstances seek to defend their members interests or to advance their particular cause via appeals to the Courts ..

  1. Pressure Group is any group that ‘attempts to influence legislative or governing institutions in behalf of its own special interests or interests of larger public that it represents. These are the groups influencing Government’s decision is their favour without participating in politics as such.
  2. Pressure Groups play a Indirect role in political life of society. Members of society organize pressure groups in order to influence the government policies and initiatives. Ethnic and racial groups, religious and linguistic minority groups all act collectively to influence governmental decisions. In this sence such groups are referred as pressure groups.
  3. Pressure groups are an interest group which tries to safe-guard and promotes the interests of its members. It is not a political group seeking to capture political power though it may have a political character of its own. In other words, a pressure group can be understood as an association of persons with a common interest who try to influence governmental decisions. These pressure groups also known as interest groups pursue their political goals through lobbying- the process by which individuals and groups communicate with public officials in order to influence decisions of government. They also distribute persuasive literature and launch public campaigns to build grass -root support for their political objectives.
  4. Pressure group act behind the seen as not trying to capture the power. They support their candidate, parties in election and ensure the winning candidate favour their demands and represent their interest in related bodies. Pressure groups give collective expression to the groups demand and also ensure that the demand should be met. They change their political allegiance quickly as to suit their conditions.
  5. According to Anthony Giddens pressure groups are the carriers of democracy. With the increase in Industrialization, division of labour also increase, thus emerged various sections with specialized interest. But modern democracy demands harmonization of interest due to which minority or sectional interest tend to get ignored. Pressure Groups represent this interest.
  6. Its presence shows existence of pluralism making power dispersed and decentralized in the political system.
  7. Pressure groups also aggregates and articulate interest thus making government aware of public opinion and interest and work for them. The participation of all sections in governance is indirectly achieved. Pressure groups can work in anonymity out of the glare of public. So they may prevent public censure. They may use imitative, educative, non-formal methods to protect and promote their interest.
  8. According to Functionalists such groups play a constructive role in decision-making. They prepare the ground for the orderly political participation. In the theoretical framework of democratic pluralism states are assumed to be neutral arbiters [or impartial referees] evaluating the claims of a vast number of possibly competing social groups in accordance with the national interest. States are assumed to attempt to represent the interests of societies as a whole rather than the interests of a different class or ruling elite. In Such situation pressure groups are said to make important contributions to the democratic process.
  9. Thus whereas Political parties represent the general interests of voters across a range of issues Pressure groups provide for the representation of citizens’ views on particular issues relating to their own personal well-being as in the case of sectional groups and/or to their particular causes for concern as in the case of promotional or interest groups.
  10. As a result of the resources at their disposal Pressure groups can represent individuals more effectively than they could do themselves, a point which may be especially relevant to more disadvantaged individuals such as the poor or the disabled and to minority groupings such as immigrants.
  11. It is possible that Pressure groups can address controversial issues which political parties might initially seek to avoid and likely also that as new issues reach the political agenda new pressure groups can be formed to address these issues .
  12. Pressure groups enable their members and supporters to participate more fully in the political process on a continuing basis between general elections and this is likely to enhance political understanding and thereby to strengthen support for the liberal democratic system as a whole.
  13. The existence of rival Pressure groups for example supporting or opposing the increased use of nuclear power, liberalisation of abortion regulations or the war in Iraq will help to ensure that both sides of these controversial issues can be fully debated .
  14. Pressure groups may also sometimes be able to provide governments with important information not otherwise available to them thereby improving government decision making. For example governments may be aided in the development of health or education policy by information provided for example by the Indian Association and the various teaching unions.
  15. Once policy has been decided relevant Pressure groups may also encourage their members to carry out government policy and may also scrutinise government performance to assess whether policies are being implemented effectively.
  16. By the provision of opportunities for political participation via ”the normal channels” pressure groups may indirectly help to ensure that citizens do not turn to more radical methods in their attempts to pressurise the government so that pressure groups are seen as providing a safety valve preventing destabilising opposition to government and thereby increasing the overall legitimacy of the liberal democratic political system.

In summary pressure groups may contribute to government effectiveness by stimulating debate, by the provision of useful information by help with the implementation of policy and by scrutiny of government performance.

  1. Pressure groups aim to inform and educate both their members and the overall population about political issues.
  2. They provide an organised channel through which individuals may participate in the political process and seek to influence policies of local government ,devolved assemblies, national government, European political institutions and wider international institutions such as the UN. Increasingly also some pressure groups seek to influence the activities of multinational corporations.
  3. Whereas political parties represent voters’ views over a wide range of political issues, pressure groups can represent individuals’ views on particular issues such as animal rights or poverty.
  4. Pressure groups serve as a pool of talent for political recruitment in that many party politicians begin their careers as pressure group activists.
  5. Pressure groups may seek to raise controversial issues and to support minorities which political parties neglect for fear of electoral unpopularity. Thus for example pressure groups were more active than political parties in early campaigns in support of gay rights although all main political parties are nowadays committed to the protection of gay rights.
  6. Pressure groups provide opportunities for individuals to influence government policy between elections which obviously strengthens the overall democratic process.
  7. Pressure groups scrutinise the activities of government and publicise cases of government mismanagement and government activities which may be “ultra vires” [i.e. actions which exceed the powers granted in current legislation.] They therefore provide an important mechanism for the limitation of excessive executive power .
  8. Pressure groups may provide governments with useful information although ,at the same time, a government will wish to take account of possible bias in this information.
  9. Once policy decisions have been arrived at following negotiation between government and relevant pressure groups leaders, the leaders may then encourage their members to accept these decisions, as when Trade Union leaders in the corporatist 1970s encouraged their members to accept relatively low pay increases in exchange for government promises to protect employment and to increase the scope of the Welfare State. These strategies were not especially successful but it is clear that they could not have been devised without the support of the trade union movement.

However it has also been argued by more Critical analysts that Pressure group activity may in some cases undermine in various respects the principles of liberal democracy.

  1. Conflict theorists on the other hand argue that although a few organizations work on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged most of the Pressure group represent the vested interests of the business leaders, the lobbies of multinational companies, rich professionals and political leaders. They further assert that these powerful lobbies discourage political participation by the individual citizens. The pressure groups have greater say in democracy than in the totalitarian setup..
  2. Marxists especially claim that liberal democratic governments favour disproportionately the interests of well funded, well organised pro-capitalist Pressure group. This is because governments depend for their very survival on the profitability and efficiency of private capitalism on which in turn levels of employment, living standards and economic growth depend. Governments are therefore unlikely to introduce policies which are not supported by private enterprise.
  3. Furthermore Pro-capitalist pressure groups are likely to be granted insider status which means that their negotiations with government are often secret which undermines both their own and the government’s accountability to the general public.
  4. Furthermore most Pressure groups apart from trade unions, are joined mainly by relatively affluent middle class people and most pressure group leaders [who may not be chosen by especially democratic methods] are even more likely to be middle class. Although we cannot automatically assume that pressure groups’ middle class members and leaders will not attempt to represent the interests of other social groups.
  5. However these points taken together do suggest that the poor and otherwise disadvantaged groups such as many disabled people and members of some ethnic minority groups are themselves relatively unlikely to be involved directly in pressure group activity and relatively more likely to be represented by under-funded outsider pressure groups which despite their best efforts may be unable to greatly influence government. Indeed it has also been argued that the existence of so many pressure groups persuades people to believe that they have influence when in fact they have very little.
  6. It has been suggested that from the 1940s onward national political decision making world over operated within a framework of so-called corporatism or tripartism in which government decisions were influenced much more by business and trade union leaders than by the leaders of other pressure groups. Critics of corporatism have argued that it gave excessive political powers to business and trade union leaders who had not necessarily been fairly elected; that business and trade union leaders did not necessarily have the interests of the country at heart; that they each possessed considerable veto power enabling them to force governments to accept particular policies rather than facing ,say, a prolonged strike or reduced private sector investment; and that the excessive power of these groups undermined the pluralist claim that power was distributed among many separate pressure groups.
  7. From the 1970s theorists influenced by New Right ideology accepted the above criticisms of corporatism. They argued in particular that the trade unions had excessive powers which they used to weaken the economy via damaging restrictive practices, inflationary wage demands and strikes and that welfare oriented pressure groups such as Shelter and the Child Poverty Action Group raised unrealistic expectations of increased spending on the welfare state which when they were not met served only to undermine confidence in government. Fewer criticisms were made of the activities of private industry although there were sometimes significant disagreements over economic policy but critics of New Right ideology rejected this analysis of both trade unions and welfare pressure groups.
  8. Professor Finer characterized them as anonymous empires. For Lambert these are unofficial government which implies that no government can run without taking them into consideration. It organizes itself around a common interest of a section.

The classification of different types of pressure groups:

Pressure groups have been classified in a variety of ways such that we may distinguish in principle between the following different kinds of pressure groups although individual pressure groups may well fall into more than one of these categories so that for example the trade unions might be described as primary, sectional and permanent pressure groups which have sometimes but not always attained insider status , which may operate at local, national and international levels and also has a peak organisation known as the T.U.C. [Trades Union Congress].

  1. Primary pressure groups and secondary pressure groups
  2. Sectional pressure groups [sometimes called interest groups or protective groups] and cause or promotional pressure groups….and hybrid groups
  3. Insider pressure groups and outsider pressure groups
  4. Local, national and international pressure groups
  5. Permanent and temporary pressure groups

Primary pressure groups and secondary pressure groups:

Although political analysts are concerned mainly with the capacities of pressure groups to exert political influence and with the methods by which they attempt to do so we must recognise also that most pressure groups engage in a mixture of “political” and “non-political” activities. Primary pressure groups are organisations which involve themselves in political activities designed to influence public policy whereas Secondary pressure groups engage mainly in nonpolitical activity and involve themselves in actual political processes only rarely. Examples of primary pressure groups include organisations such as the Electoral Reform Society, India Against Corruption etc whereas churches and many [but not all] charities would be seen as mainly secondary pressure groups. Charities may face the threat of a loss of charitable status if their objectives are seen as excessively political.

Sectional or Protective pressure groups and cause or promotional pressure groups….and hybrid groups

Sectional or protective groups aim to protect the interests of their members. For example, Trade Unions seek to increase the earnings and improve the living standards of their members, while the Confederation of Indian Industry (the CII) aims to influence the government to adopt policies such as the reduction in business taxation or increased government grants to industry which are likely to improve the prospects for private industry within the economy. Membership of sectional or protective pressure groups is confined to those who are personally involved in the sector of activity which the pressure groups represent: thus for example the trade union movement represents only trade unionists and specific trade unions represent only the trade union members employed in specific industries or trades and professional associations such as the Indian Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing represent only doctors and nurses respectively.

Promotional or cause groups do not aim to protect the interests of their members but to advance causes that their members consider to be important. Examples of Promotional or Cause groups include Amnesty International, the Child Poverty Action Group etc. Membership of promotional or cause groups is open to any individuals who wish to identify with the causes advanced by particular groups.

This is a useful distinction but some groups may be seen as partly Sectional and partly Cause groups in that, for example, the Trade Unions have in the past supported a wide variety of causes such as the ending of Apartheid in South Africa and, in some cases, unilateral nuclear disarmament as well as trying to protect the living standards of their members. Also some pressure groups such as For example the Rural Associations or Caste Groups might be seen by some as a sectional pressure group concerned to protect the interests of landowners, farmers and other rural interests but they may themselves claim that they are a promotional or cause groups standing for the protection of local democracy in rural areas and against the imposition of policies designed by a metropolitan political elite which has no understanding of countryside issues. Obviously if such groups succeeds in promoting itself as a champion of local democracy its support and hence, perhaps, its political influence is likely to increase.

Insider pressure groups and outsider pressure groups:

Insider pressure groups are those groups which are most likely to be consulted regularly by governments and pressure groups are most likely to achieve Insider group status if they can demonstrate that they possess at least some of the following features.

  1. High membership and high membership density suggesting that a pressure group represents a large number and proportion of people concerned about a particular issue. Membership density is the ratio of actual members to potential members.
  2. The compatibility of its own objectives with the objectives of government and with public opinion.
  3. The willingness to operate through the “normal political channels” rather than to engage in high profile demonstrations or direct action.
  4. The capacity to provide reliable , accurate information which might otherwise be unavailable and which facilitates government decision making.
  5. A significant role in the legitimation and/or implementation of government policies.
  6. Economic leverage and veto power. Governments cannot ignore business interests since government success depends in many ways upon the existence of a strong economy and trade unions have also been able to exercise veto power in the past although less so nowadays.

It is argued that insider groups with these characteristics are especially likely to be able to influence government policy decisions. Examples of Insider groups include the Indian Medical Association, CII, Automobile Association etc.

Outsider groups are essentially the reverse of Insider groups.
  • Their membership or membership density may often [but not always] be relatively small.
  • Their objectives and/or methods may be unpopular with the general public and seen by government as unacceptable and non-legitimate.
  • They are not seen by governments as valuable sources of information and advice; they are unlikely to be involved in the legitimation and/or implementation of government policies; and they possess little or economic leverage or veto power.

Outsider groups may actively prefer outsider status because they themselves recognise that their own objectives are never likely to be shared by governments and believe that closer links with government will result only in the moderation of the groups’ fundamental objectives. Instead they choose to involve themselves in various forms of direct action in the hope of increasing mass public support which, they hope, will lead eventually to fundamental changes in government policy. Outsider groups such as India Against Corruption which, in the fairly recent past, have been able to mobilise very large demonstrations always stressed the need for transparancy so as not to alienate public support but other groups such as the PETA, Green Peace are prepared to use potentially disorderly.

Local, national and international pressure groups:

  1. Pressure groups may concern themselves primarily with local, national or international issues and negotiation or with a combination of all three types of activity. A small local pressure group may, for example, seek to influence local council decisions on a variety of specifically local issues such as decisions whether to license the building of new supermarket branches, to permit the opening of new music venues ,r to introduce speeding restrictions and/or “speed bumps” in roads close to schools or to extent recycling arrangements.
  2. A large national trade union may sometimes be involved in negotiations affecting wages or working conditions in one particular firm but at other times may be obliged to negotiate with a national employer’s association and national government and/or with the political institutions of the EU and with multinational corporations.
  3. Business pressure groups and large environmental pressure groups may similarly be involved at various times in negotiations at local, national and international levels.

Permanent and temporary pressure groups…including episodic groups and fire brigade groups:

  1. Whereas some pressure groups are likely to be permanent because they have been formed to address issues which are seen as likely to dominate the political agenda for the foreseeable future others are formed to address issues which are essentially temporary. Thus it is to be expected that there will always be economic issues in a capitalist society which are perceived differently by employees and employers so that both trade unions and business pressure groups are likely to be permanent fixtures on the political landscape. Similar conclusions apply to pressure groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth and Oxfam, Action Aid related organisations now that environmental issues and world poverty occupy a more permanent position on the political agenda. However even in relation to pressure groups regarded as permanent there may be important organisational changes: in recent years there have been union mergers as unions attempted to protect their bargaining power in response to the general decline in trade union membership which has occurred since the 1970s and new environmental pressure groups have emerged which are critical of what they perceive to be the incorporation of the once radical Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.
  2. Other pressure groups are very likely to be temporary because they have been set up to address essentially temporary issues such as a hospital or school closure or a road building scheme or a building project on a green field site. Once final decisions have actually been taken for or against these particular initiatives the pressure group loses its reason for existence.
  3. In their analyses of temporary pressure groups theorists also sometimes distinguish between Episodic groups and fire brigade groups. Episodic groups are groups which have been formed for non political purposes but which may involve themselves in political questions if they feel that their interests are threatened [e.g. the local amateur soccer leagues may register their opposition to proposals to sell off playing fields and then return to their usual non-political stance once this “episode” has been resolved.
  4. Fire brigade groups are groups which are set up in response to a particular political issue and which may disappear completely once the issue has been resolved because they no longer have any reason to exist although the group might continue if, For example, some of its members decide to support similar campaigns possibly in nearby areas .

Anomic Pressure Group.

  1. Mmodern democracy they can be dysfunctional too as by representing self-sectional interest at times other interests get marginalized. It may be possible that sectional interest goes contrary to national interest. Certain pressure groups have also emerged using illegal methods e.g. terrorists organizations. Such Pressure Groups are referred as Anomic pressure group.
  2. Thus, being inevitable phenomena in democracy pressure Groups have strengthened & weakened democracy side by side. Inspite of their limitations and defects Pressure Groups have become an essential part of the modern democratic process. We may conclude that theorists influenced by democratic pluralism have been most likely to praise the democratic activities of pressure groups but that theorists influenced by Marxism, Elitism, Corporatism and the New Right have adopted a more critical approach. While recognising the importance of these criticisms one only has to imagine a political system with no independent pressure groups to see that they do on balance make a significant contribution to the operation of liberal democracy.

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