Theories of Power

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The literature on political power can be organized around the following themes:

  1. Conception - How has “power” been defined throughout history?
  2. Maintenance - How is power to be attained and used?
  3. Justification and critique - What’s the history of moral critiques of power, and prescriptions for its redistribution?

Major thinkers on each of these themes are listed in the sections below.

Definitions of Power

  • Robert Dahl
  • Friedkin, Noah E. A Formal Theory of Social Power. Journal of Mathematical Sociology, 1986, Vol. 12(2) pp. 103-126. Friedkin assumes that power is based on influence and he analyzes small power structures and their effects on generating agreement. His power structures do not have any negative edges.
  • Barnett (2005) challenges the traditional definition of power as A causing B to do something B wouldn’t otherwise do, arguing that “power is the production, in and through social relations, of effects that shape the capacities of actors to determine their circumstances and fate."

The Acquisition and Maintenance of Power

  • Machiavelli
  • Caro

Critiques of Power

  • Max Weber
  • Bertrand Russel
  • Orwell
  • C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite
  • Power Structure Analysis
  • Postmodernism (Foucault)

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