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Social Power Theories: Pluralist, Power-Elite & Marxist Models

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  • 0:30 The Pluralist Model
  • 1:35 Types of Groups
  • 3:26 Power-Elite Model
  • 3:52 Power-Elite Ideals &…
  • 4:42 The Marxist Model
  • 5:03 Marxist Ideals &…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Melissa Hurst
This lesson will explain and differentiate three major theories of power in society: The pluralist model, the power-elite model and the Marxist model.

Power and Power Models

Power, according to sociologist Max Weber, is the ability to achieve goals with or without the society's support of those goals. In this lesson, we explore societal and political power by looking at three differing power models: the pluralist model, the power-elite model, and the Marxist model. These models will be differentiated by the source and the nature of the power according to each model.

The Pluralist Model

This is the country of Politico. Politico has three large regions that make up the country, and each region operates on a different power model. The first region we come to operates on the pluralist model.

Pluralism is a theory that centers on the idea of how power is distributed. The pluralist model indicates that power is distributed among many groups. These groups may include coalitions of like-minded people, unions, professional associations and business lobbyists. The percentages of average people that make up these groups are small, so in theory, the public acts as bystanders in the pluralist model of power.

The pluralists believe that:

  • Power is dispersed and fragmented.
  • Groups provide a more effective means of representation.
  • The larger the group the more influence it will have.
  • Policies are established through bargaining and compromise and tend to be fair to all in the end.

The Pluralist Model: Types of Groups

There are two types of groups within the pluralist model: insider groups, which tend to be more powerful, and outsider groups.

Insider groups are well established and are able to work closely with the elected officials in government because of their position or prestige within the community. The people in these groups tend to have similar views to the government in power, which may not always be a positive factor.

Examples of insider groups include business groups that concentrate their efforts on issues directly affecting business interests (in the U.S., the American Petroleum Institute works on behalf of all oil companies, as an example.).

Insider groups also include:

  • Labor groups that promote policies that benefit workers in general and union members in particular (United Food and Commercial Workers International in the U.S. is an example).
  • Agricultural groups that consist of general and specialty farm associations.
  • Professional groups that have lobbying associations to promote the interests of their members.

Outsider groups are viewed as less powerful. Typically, members of outsider groups have less access to elected government officials. Their groups are more recently established, which could be a sign of weakness.

Examples of these groups include:

  • Grassroots activism that may hold marches and rallies to bring attention or action for their cause.
  • Political Action Committees (PACs) that filter money to support specific candidates for office.

Although the pluralist model revolves around the theory that power is equally dispersed, critics are quick to point out that this is not always the case. Many critics view the pluralist model as a form of the 'good old boys' network in which membership is based on class or ethnicity.

Power-Elite Model

The next region we visit operates on a power-elite model. Power elitism is a theory that centers on the idea of how power is concentrated. In this model, sociologists argue that the majority of the power is concentrated among the wealthy. In this case, the wealthy refers to businesses, government and the military. Due to the distribution of the power to a few, it is argued that the average person cannot have his or her voice heard.

The Power-Elite Model: Ideals and Characteristics

Power-elite ideals and characteristics include:

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