Each society is made up of smaller groups and associations that are built on social class, personal interest, or common goals.
Sociologist C. Wright Mills used the term power elite to refer to his theory that the United States is actually run by a small group representing the most wealthy, powerful, and influential people in business, government, and the military. According to Mills, their decisions dictate the policies of this country more than those of the voting public. Mills also pointed out that the influence of the power elite overlaps into many different areas. For example, a wealthy businessman may make large contributions to a particular political candidate.
A voluntary association is a group that people choose to join, in which members are united by the pursuit of a common goal. Some voluntary associations operate on the local level, such as the parent-teacher organization at a particular school. Membership in any given PTA is voluntary, and the members unite to achieve the goal of encouraging communication between parents and teachers in the hope of benefiting local education.
Some voluntary associations operate on a statewide level, such as a campaign to reelect a particular state politician. Others function on a nationwide basis, such as the Girl Scouts or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Still others are international.
Voluntary associations can be temporary or permanent.
Example: A voluntary association forms to protest a particular piece of legislation. The association dissolves once the law is repealed.