Political Articulation: Parties and the Constitution of Cleavages in the United States, India, and Turkey*


  • *

    Address correspondence to: Cihan Tuğal, 410 Barrows Hall, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-1980. Tel.: 510-643-1956; Fax: 510-643-0659. E-mail: ctugal@berkeley.edu. The authors would like to thank Howard Kimeldorf and Dylan Riley for their comments.


Political parties do not merely reflect social divisions, they actively construct them. While this point has been alluded to in the literature, surprisingly little attempt has been made to systematically elaborate the relationship between parties and the social, which tend to be treated as separate domains contained by the disciplinary division of labor between political science and sociology. This article demonstrates the constructive role of parties in forging critical social blocs in three separate cases, India, Turkey, and the United States, offering a critique of the dominant approach to party politics that tends to underplay the autonomous role of parties in explaining the preferences, social cleavages, or epochal socioeconomic transformations of a given community. Our thesis, drawing on the work of Gramsci, Althusser, and Laclau, is that parties perform crucial articulating functions in the creation and reproduction of social cleavages. Our comparative analysis of the Republican and Democratic parties in the United States, Islamic and secularist parties in Turkey, and the Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress parties in India will demonstrate how “political articulation” has naturalized class, ethnic, religious, and racial formations as a basis of social division and hegemony. Our conclusion is that the process of articulation must be brought to the center of political sociology, simultaneously encompassing the study of social movements and structural change, which have constituted the orienting poles of the discipline.