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The political inactivity of the less advantaged : the approaches of Marxism and empirical social science Paehlke, Robert

Abstract

The thesis begins by outlining some of the major findings of political sociology regarding the demographic characteristics of those persons who are typically less inclined to participate in the political process within liberal democratic systems. It has generally been found that participation is positively related to income, education, and occupational status; and that generally men and racial, ethnic and religious majorities tend as well to participate more than women and minorities. The third chapter isolates seven alternative explanations of the relative political inactivity of the less advantaged from the recent literature of empirical social science. There is then an attempt to show that to a considerable extent though by no means universally, the explanations of empirical social science can be usefully seen as fitting into a 6-part 'conservative understanding' of the non-participation of the less advantaged. Associated claims such as those which state or imply that low levels of participation have positive effects for political systems because the less advantaged are less informed or more intolerant are critiqued by a detailed questioning of research techniques, by a gathering of empirical evidence from less familiar sources, and by doubts regarding the degree to which some researchers findings follow from their own evidence. Included as part of these sections is an analysis of recent introductory texts in political science wherein the elements of the 'conservative understanding' mentioned above are found, in some cases, to be badly (and erroneously) stated. Lastly, towards the close of the fourth chapter there is some discussion and analysis of recent American intellectual history in an attempt to place in historico-social perspective several aspects of the recent study of political participation. At several points there is a discussion of aspects of the methodology of empirical social science and its relationship to the findings under consideration here. Chapters 5 and 6 focus on the contrasts between, on the one hand, the analyses of empirical social science regarding the relative non-participation of the less advantaged, and on the other, the explanations of Marxists of the seeming disinclination of the working class in 'late capitalist' societies to pursue political activity (in particular revolutionary socialist political activity). Chapter 5 isolates and develops 13 separate but related explanations found in the writings of contemporary Marxists, Chapter 6 offers a critique of explanations, the evidence supporting them, and aspects of the methodology underlying them. The assumptions, approaches and methods of Marxism and empirical social science are treated comparatively. Among the conclusions reached is the view that while Marxism is often imprecise and generally slow to adapt to changing empirical conditions it has an important capacity for developing explanations which are comprehensive, integrated and theoretically useful. A series of suggestions are offered whereby Marxist explanations might be, at least in part, tested empirically. The final chapter discusses some of the weaknesses of both empirical social science and Marxism and makes some tentative suggestions about how they might be avoided in both theoretical and detailed inquiry.

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