The relevance of Bentley for group theory: founding father or mistaken identity?

G Jordan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Citations (Scopus)


A. F. Bentley's The Process of Government (1908) is widely accepted as an important source of contemporary interest group study. This paper argues to the contrary that Bentley's arguments in this area are obscure and have contributed little to the programme of modern interest group research. His importance is as a contributor to the debate on the nature of social science and social science method and not as the starting-point for interest group analysis. The judgement about his role as a social scientist should rest on consideration of his body of work and not simply the one book. In terms of his much cited book, Bentley, it is argued, is misread. The central purpose of this article is to explore the consequences of that misinterpretation. The misreading of The Process of Government, and the unmerited assumption that it is directly connected to modern interest group theory, has led to a misunderstanding of that contemporary theory. In particular his use of the term 'group' is much wider in scope than is now usually followed. This means that his claims are not so uni-dimensional as they appear when extracted from their context. Bentley used the term in a sociological sense that included informal social associations as 'groups': these are not the sort of formal, collective organizations of the interest group type as identified in political science.

It is argued that the major sources of ideas current in the interest group field are Truman (1951) and the case-study authors of the 1930s such as Odegard, Childs, Herring and Schattschneider, Bentley's contribution to political science is not as progenitor of interest group studies, but his emphasis on process anticipates the policy studies movement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-54
Number of pages28
JournalHistory of the Human Sciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1999


  • AF Bentley
  • group theory
  • interest group research
  • policy-making process
  • policy studies
  • political science


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