Pluralism and Elite Theory

In this first "real" week of class, we have a very ambitious agenda.  In the first part of the reading, Who Governs? by Robert Dahl and The Power Elite by C. Wright Mills, we explore the work and critiques of two major theorists of American politics.  Although Dahl described his theory of pluralism in a more detailed manner in other works, Who Governs? shows both the context and basis for Dahl's core ideas about American democracy.  The Power Elite can be viewed as a direct response and critique of pluralism, yet it is also an independent theory worthy of discussion and debate in its own right.

Class Preparation Questions

Why is the shift from "cumulative to dispersed inequalities" critical for Dahl's theory of pluralism?

Outline the nature of the study that Dahl uses to develop his theory of pluralism in Who Governs?

Does the context of Dahl's study explain his results?  Might he have developed a very different theory of American politics if he had examined Los Angeles, California or Birmingham, Alabama instead of New Haven, Connecticut?

What is the "the power elite" referred to by Mills?  What is the source of their high degree of influence and control over American politics according to Mills?

What are the key differences between Dahl's pluralist theory and Mills's elite theory?

Why does Manley believe that pluralism fails to account for "the reality of political and economic equality in the United States?"

Do you find Lindblom's and Dahl's responses to Manley's critiques of their work compelling?

What are Bachrach and Baratz's major criticisms of elite theory?

 

The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author. The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by the American University. If you have any questions about this page, please email David Lublin at dlublin@american.edu. This page was last updated on August 22, 1999.