The Evolution of Political Process Theory
University Press of Kansas, 9780700613090, 212pp.
Publication Date: April 19, 2004
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Many of the basic issues of political science have been addressed by pluralist theory, which focuses on the competing interests of a democratic polity, their organization, and their influence on policy. Popular in the 1960s, pluralism gradually lost favor and nearly became obsolete when political scientists began to challenge its fundamental assumptions. Andrew McFarland shows, however, that this approach still provides a promising foundation for understanding the American political process. Neopluralism draws on pluralism's foundational logic to synthesize its various strands into a single paradigm that addresses three key, interrelated questions: Who has power? How is policy made? What do interest groups do? McFarland reexamines the major concepts and findings of the most influential advocates of pluralism from the 1950s and 1960s, then traces developments in American political science which have either contested or built upon these concepts. Demonstrating that the work underlying the original pluralist paradigm has been improved upon by subsequent generations of scholars, he proposes an original synthesis that combines elements of classical pluralist theory with more recent theoretical developments, including work on social movements, political development, and corporatism. By demonstrating the degree to which much recent scholarship shares an unstated allegiance to the process theory of politics, McFarland shows how new studies can be designed that can contribute to this theoretical perspective. He also suggests how process theory continues to develop and is likely to expand into the fields of comparative politics, international relations, and social movement studies. Summarizing fifty years of research on political power, public policymaking, and interest groups, Neopluralism offers a fresh overview of current thinking in political science. Because it makes a strong case for revisiting an abandoned paradigm, it is essential reading for all scholars who wish to solidify their understanding of interest group behavior, public policy, and American politics in general.