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Title: The social power paradigm: causalities, mechanisms, and constructions in the perspective of systems theory
Authors: Burns, Tom R.
Hall, Peter M.
McGinty, Patrick
Keywords: Causalities
Control mechanisms
Power modalitird
Issue Date: 2016
Series/Report no.: 206/2016
CIES e-Working Paper
Abstract: The article outlines and illustrates a new social power paradigm based on an innovative approach to causation, action processes, and social construction. It aims to overcome several of the major limitations of the social science research of Robert Dahl, Steven Lukes, Stefano Guzzini, Michael Mann, John Searle, and Max Weber. The paradigm distinguishes agential, social structural, and material/ecological modalities of power. Moreover, neglected modalities such as meta-power (power over power, transformative power) and relational control are specified and exemplified. Section I provides a brief introduction and background to the theoretical paradigm outlined in the article. The section focuses largely on a major contemporary social theorist of power, Stephen Lukes. The work of a number of other scholars is referred to as well. The limitations of the work of Lukes as well as others such as Robert Dahl, Stefano Guzzini, Michael Mann, John Searle and Max Weber are briefly outlined. Of particular importance is their failure to systematically specify and analyze meta-power, the fundamental powering in any society. 2 Section II briefly presents causal power theory, postulating multiple causalities and powering mechanisms based on concrete actions and algorithms. Three general modalities of power are identified and analyzed: material/ecological forces, social structural and agential influences – typically making up complexes of regulatory mechanisms. Intentionality/non-intentionality and agential/systemic are shown to be critical dimensions. Section III introduces the meta-power conceptualization (power over power, transformative power), distinguishing agential and systemic forms of meta-power. Section IV takes up for discussion several of the key features of the power paradigm. Finally, there is a section of concluding remarks making five points: (1) social power is based on multiple interdependent causal mechanisms that pervade all social life. (2) social power systems (institutional arrangements, socio-technical systems, and infrastructures, are complexes of causality). (3) Most power relations and systems are human constructions (4) Major complex systems of power and meta-power are found in the forms of capitalism, state, socio-technical systems and built environments. (5) The mechanisms (and therefore modalities) of power are being multiplied as new types of causal and control technologies and new socio-technical systems are constructed.
Peer reviewed: yes
ISSN: 1647-0893
Appears in Collections:CIES-WP - Working papers

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