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Social Power

Forms of Power by Gianfranco Poggi (Polity) Political power is often viewed as the sole embodiment of 'social power', even while we recognize that social power manifests itself in different forms and institutional spheres. This new book by Gianfranco Poggi suggests that the three principal forms of social power - the economic, the normative/ideological and the political - are based on a group's privileged access to and control over different resources.

Against this general background, Poggi shows how various embodiments of normative/ideological and economic power have both made claims on political power (considered chiefly as it is embodied in the state) and responded in turn to the latter's attempt to control or to instrumentalize them. The embodiment of ideological power in religion and in modern intellectual elites is examined in the context of their relations to the state. Poggi also explores both the demands laid upon the state by the business elite and the impact of the state's fiscal policies on the economic sphere. The final chapter considers the relationship between a state's political class and its military elite, which tends to use the resource of organized coercion for its own ends.

Forms of Power is of interest to students and scholars of sociology and politics. Power relations structure society. That is, the groups routinely interacting within a given territorial framework differ, among other things, in the extent to which some of them are able to determine or condition what the others undertake, accomplish, forbear to do or have done to them. A given group is or is not in a position to do so in its relation to the others depending chiefly on whether it does or does not find itself in possession of a resource from which it can exclude those other groups and which it can employ to put pressure on them.

The resources significant enough to play this role are those that put at stake three distinct vulnerabilities of human beings: the difficulty they find in forming an idea of what the world is like and in attributing a meaning to their own position and their own destiny; the insecurity to which they are exposed by the scarcity of the resources and energies on which they depend if they are to make their own survival possible; and the fragility of their bodies, their susceptibility to physical constraint, suffering and death.

`Social power' means on the one hand that a given group can make a significant difference to the extent to which other individuals actually experience those vulnerabilities, relieving or heightening the anxieties that they arouse; on the other hand, it means that it can make that difference depend on what those individuals do or abstain from doing. As Hobbes pointed out long ago, the sovereign relieves the subjects from the experience of fear by means of his own capacity to awaken fear. Those vulnerabilities differ from one another; they concern different aspects of the constitution of humans. The corresponding resources also differ; and in the intent of securing them and availing themselves of them, groups develop different dispositions, tendencies, sensitivities and acquire different identities ‑ as indicated by the concept of `moral syndrome' which I have borrowed from Jane Jacobs. On this account, the search for and the exercise of social power turn into a complex game.

On the one hand, different contenders confront each other starting from different positions of advantage, each downplaying the other's priorities, trying to decrease their leverage on the situation they share, denigrating their identities. On the other hand, each power group must to some extent take into account the existence of alternative power bases, seek to exercise some influence on the ways other power forms are acquired and put to use, and in the end acknowledge the constraints their existence places upon the form it has made its own. This necessity engenders a restless dynamic in which are undertaken and adjusted to one another diverse strategies of each given power form: from its attempt to take over or to suppress other forms, to more or less stable and explicit ways of coming to terms with the existence of others and to attain a compromise with them.

The open‑ended, highly contingent character of the resulting relations between power forms does not exclude that some trends may develop and become relatively stable and reliable. I have mentioned two such current trends: the erosion undergone by the secular embodiments of ideological / normative power in their autonomy and significance, particularly as con­cerns those I have called creative intellectuals; the challenge constituted for the state's authority, rooted in the control of the territory, by the globali­zation of the economic process and by the fact that the greatest agglomer­ations of economic power present in our own times are increasingly constituted, or at any rate operate, offshore.

I hope I am overstating somewhat the significance, and above all the durability, of these trends. I hope that the `power games' in the foreseeable future will not be seriously impoverished by a reduction in the name of the players, by the consolidation of a stable and imposing hierarchy between them, and above all by a thoroughgoing unification of the social power forms. While I am unable to place any confidence in the prospect, attractive in itself as it might be, of a world without power(s) ‑ for I remain convinced that the power phenomenon cannot be eliminated from the social world ‑I find less incredible, and thus more disquieting, the prospect of a signifi­cant, lasting elimination of any of the major forms that that phenomenon takes. The damage to human values ‑ a close approximation to such a condition ‑ has been amply demonstrated, in our own times, by the experience of the Soviet Union. Today, what could be called `the marketing of pretty much everything' constitutes a less visible and threatening, but in some ways analogous, phenomenon, which might also, in the long run, jeopardize significant human values.

Contents: Preface, Chapter 1: Homo Potens; Chapter 2: Power Forms; Chapter 3: Political Power; Chapter 4: Ideological/Normative Power; Chapter 5: Religious Power and the State; Chapter 6: Creative Intellectuals and the State; Chapter 7: Economic Power; Chapter 8: Business and Politics; Chapter 9: The Economic Costs of the State; Chapter 10: Military Power; Epilogue; Notes; Bibliography; Index

The Power of Feminist Theory by Amy Allen (Westview Press) Draws on the work of a diverse group of theorists in order to illustrate and construct a new feminist conception of power.

Defining Power

Myriad different, and in many cases contradictory, definitions of power are influential in contemporary social and political theory. In fact, the lack of agreement amongst social and political theorists about how to de­fine power has led some to abandon the hope of arriving at a widely ac­cepted definition. As Steven Lukes puts the point: "It is more likely that the very search for such a definition is a mistake. For the variations in what interests us when we are interested in power run deep . . . , and what unites the various views of power is too thin and formal to provide a generally satisfying definition, applicable to all cases,"2 In light of this serious and ongoing debate, I must emphasize at the outset that I am not attempting to offer a "generally satisfying definition" of power that will be "applicable to all cases." Rather, my aim is to offer an analysis of power that will prove useful for feminist theorists who seek to compre­hend, critique, and contest the subordination of women'

With that in mind, let us return to the question that I posed in the In­troduction: "What interests feminists when we are interested in power?"

Feminists bring at least three particular interests to a study of power. The first and perhaps the most striking is our interest in understanding the ways men dominate women, an interest that remains the impetus of much feminist research. Furthermore, the exposure in recent years of the racial and class bias of much of feminist theory has signaled the need for feminists to think seriously about how some women dominate others on the basis of their race, class, ethnicity, age, or sexual orientation. 'A feminist conception of power thus needs to be able to illuminate a complex and interrelated array of systems of domination‑an array including sexism, racism, heterosexism, and class oppression, to name only the most conspicuous dimensions. These related concerns require an adequate feminist analysis of power to shed light on the concept of domination more generally.

However, as noted by some of the feminists reviewed in Chapter 1, a discussion of domination will not satisfy all the interests that feminists have in studying power. As I argued in that chapter, to think of power solely in terms of domination leads one to neglect the power that women do have. This neglect, in turn, leads some feminists not only to underemphasize the ways that some women are in positions of dominance over others but also to overemphasize the ways that women are victimized. The recognition of these inadequacies gives rise to a second feminist concern with power: our interest in understanding the power that women do have‑that is, empowerment.

This need to theorize the power that women retain in spite of masculine domination often manifests itself in a concern with a specific use to which empowerment can be put‑namely, resistance. If the interest in empowerment corresponds to the concern with the power that women exercise in spite of male domination, then the interest in resistance corresponds to feminists' concern with the power that women can wield to oppose male domination. In other words, whereas the feminist interest in empowerment arises out of the need to theorize the power that women have in spite of the power that men exercise over us, the interest in resistance emerges out of the need to understand the power that women exercise specifically as a response to such domination.

The third interest that feminist theorists bring to the discussion of power comes in the wake of charges that the mainstream feminist movement has marginalized women of color, lesbians, and working‑class women. In response to this charge, feminists must be able to think about the kind of power that a diverse group of women can exercise collectively when we work together to define, and strive to achieve, feminist aims. That is, we have an interest in theorizing the kind of collective power that can bridge the diversity of individuals who make up the feminist movement. This interest in collective power also arises out of our

need to understand how feminists can build coalitions with other social movements, such as the racial equality movement, the gay rights movement, and/or new labor movements. In short, we need a theory of power that can conceptualize solidarity. Moreover, not just any conception of solidarity will do; we shall have to formulate our conception in such a way that it is able to avoid the charge that solidarity is an exclusionary

and repressive concept that is always predicated on some inherent sameness or identity.

In sum, then, a feminist conception of power must be able to make sense of masculine domination, feminine empowerment and resistance, and feminist solidarity and coalition ­building. Yet these different sorts of power relations do not all fall under the same sense of the general term power. Rather, each of them represents a particular way of exercising power. Our interest in domination is in the particular kinds of power that men are able to exercise over women. Our interest in empowerment and resistance is in the power that women have to act in spite of or as a response to such domination. Our interest in solidarity and coalition‑building is in the power that feminists exercise with each other and with men

in allied social movements. Feminists' diverse interests in the study of power thus give rise to three basic senses of power that our conception will have to illuminate: power‑over, power‑to, and power‑with. Before we can arrive at a conception that will allow us to think of domination, empowerment/ resistance, and solidarity/coalition‑building together as instances of power‑and, more important, that will allow us to analyze these instances in their interrelatedness‑we must first consider each of these different senses of the term power in itself.


I shall define power‑over as the ability of an actor or set of actors to constrain the choices available to another actor or set of actors in a nontrivial way. This definition is similar to Thomas Wartenberg's definition of power‑over: "A social agent A has power over another social agent B if and only if A strategically constrains B's action‑environment."' I have omitted strategically from my definition of power‑over because it seems to imply that those who have power over others have that power intentionally.' The difficulty with an account that sees power­over as the result of an actor's strategy or intentions is that it ignores the ways one can, as Lukes puts it, "have or exercise power without deliberately seeking to do so, in routine or unconsidered ways, without grasping the effects [one] can or do[es] bring about."' It strikes me as particularly important for feminists to define power‑over without reference to strategies or intentions because much of the power that men exercise over women is exercised "in routine or unconsidered ways" by men who do not deliberately intend to do so. Indeed, not only is power over women exercised by men who do not deliberately intend to do so, but I would argue that it is even exercised by men who deliberately intend not to do so. This is so because, whatever their intentions, these men are still acting within a set of cultural, institutional, and structural relations of power that work to the advantage of dominant groups and to the disadvantage of women and other subordinated groups.'

One aspect of my definition of power‑over needs clarification--namely, the phrase "in a nontrivial way." In some cases, an agent constrains the choices of another in ways that we would hesitate to call exercises of power at all. If two people each have a craving for chocolate, and one eats the last brownie in the house, then she has constrained the other's options for fulfilling his or her chocolate craving. In a broad spectrum of cases, this constraint seems too trivial to consider an instance of power‑over. However, if one who eats the brownie is well-­fed and the other is severely malnourished, then this action could well be viewed as an exercise of power‑over. There is no general rule here; the claim that an actor or set of actors exercises power over another or others will depend to some extent on the context.

Before I go on to define domination and consider its relation to the more general sense of power‑over, let me situate my definition with respect to other ways of conceptualizing power‑over. First, my definition is broad enough to include both decisions and nondecisions.9 An actor may constrain the choices of another either by making a direct decision that he or she will have to accommodate or by intentionally or unintentionally maintaining a course of action that limits the set of options from which he or she will be able to choose. Second, this definition covers both overt behavior and anticipated reactions: An actor's options can be constrained both by the overt behavior of another and by his or her anticipation of the other's negative reaction to some subset of his or her options." Third, because it makes no mention of the articulated interests of either party, this definition can account for power‑over relations that disadvantage actors with respect to both their avowed interests and those interests we believe them to have that they do not avow." Finally, by conceptualizing powerover as a constraint on an actor's or set of actors' options, this definition avoids conceiving of power solely on a dyadic or interventional model.'? In other words, this definition allows us to theorize both the power that actors wield in particular relationships and the power that such actors wield by virtue of the cultural, social, institutional, and structural relations within which each of their particular relationships takes shape. Thus, this definition accords with the basic insight‑shared by Foucault, Butler, and Arendt‑that power is fundamentally relational.

Although domination represents one way of exercising power over others, the terms domination and power‑over cannot be simply synonymous. We can easily think of situations in which one agent constrains the choices available to others in a nontrivial way that we would hesitate to call instances of domination. For example, a basketball coach exercises a certain amount of power over her players: She has the ability to constrain their options as basketball players in nontrivial ways by deciding what will happen at practice, who will play which position, who will start the game, and so on. However, we would hesitate to say that being a coach necessarily involves dominating one's players, although some coaches may use their position in this way. On the contrary, coaches are there to help their players develop new skills, increase their confidence, and, if all goes well, experience the pleasure of victory in competition." Each of these goals points to a use of power‑over others that is not harmful, and that does not seem to capture what feminists mean by domination. Therefore, power‑over must be a broader concept than domination. Furthermore, this example indicates that the former can be distinguished from the latter by means of a normative criterion: Coaching is not an instance of domination because the power the coach has over her players is exercised for their benefit, rather than for their disadvantage. Thus, we might define domination with reference to a normative criterion as well: Domination entails the ability of an actor or set of actors to constrain the choices of another actor or set of actors in a nontrivial way and in a way that works to the others' disadvantage." Domination thus turns out to be a particular application of power understood as power­over.


However, power‑over is not the only sense of power that our conception needs to be able to illuminate." After all, resistance and empowerment cannot be understood best as instances of power‑over. Rather, these terms seem to describe the capacity of an agent to act in spite of or in response to the power wielded over her by others. As I discussed in Chapter 1, most feminists who view power in terms of empowerment consider this conception of power explicitly to contradict the masculinist definition of power as a dominating and controlling power over others." Nor is the notion of resistance fully illuminated by power‑over as defined here; although particular instances of resistance may take the form of placing constraints on the options of the would‑be aggressor, resistance seems fundamentally to involve asserting one's capacity to act in the face of the domination of another agent.

If we understand empowerment and resistance in this way, then we can see that they are not completely captured by the term power‑over. The feminist interest in empowerment and resistance accordingly requires that we understand power in a second sense: the sense of power‑to. I define power‑to as the ability of an individual actor to attain an end or series of ends." This way of defining power‑to suggests that the terms empowerment and power‑to are roughly synonymous. Feminists are interested in empowerment because we are interested in how members of subordinated groups retain the power to act despite their subordination‑more particularly, in our ability to attain certain ends in spite of the subordination of women. This is an interest in power understood as power‑to.

However, power‑to or empowerment cannot be considered equivalent to resistance. just as I can assert my power‑to act as a response to a system of domination, I can conceivably assert my power‑to act by dominating others." Thus, in the same way that domination represents a particular way of exercising power‑over, resistance seems to represent a particular way of exercising power‑to or empowerment. We can define resistance as the ability of an individual actor to attain an end or series of ends that serve to challenge and/or subvert domination. In order to accommodate the feminist interest in resistance, our conception of power must cover power‑to as well.


To satisfy the feminist interest in solidarity, our definition will also have to include a final sense of power. Feminists are interested in solidarity because we have an interest in understanding the kind of collective power that binds the feminist movement together and allies it with other social movements in such a way that we can formulate and achieve our goals. I take it that the goal of the feminist movement is not to put women in a position to exact at long last our revenge for the suffering we have endured under a heteropatriarchal society. Thus, it does not make sense to view the solidarity that enables the feminist movement to formulate and achieve its objectives as merely an instance of power‑over." Rather, the goal is a kind of collective empowerment. Moreover, because solidarity represents a collective empowerment, it is not completely described by power‑to, as 1 have defined it. If solidarity cannot be viewed as a way of exercising either power‑over or power‑to, feminists require a third sense of power‑namely, power‑with.

Power‑with is the sense that emerges out of Arendt's definition of power as "the human ability not just to act but to act in concert."' Understood in this way, power is a collective ability that results from the receptivity and reciprocity that characterize the relations among individual members of the collectivity.' Drawing on these aspects of Arendt's understanding of power, we can offer the following definition of power-with; the ability of a collectivity to act together for the attainment of an agreed‑upon end or series of ends.

However, solidarity and power‑with cannot be considered equivalent terms. For example, a military group that is unjustly exercising power over a population by imposing martial law can be said to be exercising power‑with. In fact, this collective power‑with may well be what allows the military to maintain its position of dominance. Yet this does not completely correspond to the kind of solidarity in which feminists are interested. Thus, just as we concluded that domination is a particular way of exercising power‑over and resistance a particular way of exercising power‑to, solidarity should be understood as a particular way of exercising power‑with. With that in mind, I define solidarity as the ability of a collectivity to act together for the agreed‑upon end of challenging, subverting, and, ultimately, overturning a system of domination.

Having started with what interests feminists when we are interested in power, we have arrived at three desiderata for a general definition of power: It will have to include power‑over, power‑to, and power‑with. To satisfy these desiderata, our definition of power will have to be quite broad. Thus, I will define power simply as the ability or capacity of an actor or set of actors to act. This rather broad definition has two benefits. First, it easily includes all three of the senses of power that I have delineated. Power‑over is the ability or capacity to act in such a way as to constrain the choices available to another actor or set of actors; power‑to is the individual ability or capacity to act so as to attain some end; and power‑with is the collective ability or capacity to act together so as to attain some common or shared end. Because it can include power‑over, power‑to, and power­with, our definition can accommodate feminists' interests in understanding domination, resistance, and solidarity. The second benefit of this definition is that it accords nicely with the etymology of the term: Power is derived from the Latin potere and the French pouvoir, both of which mean to be able.

Defining power in this way, however, does have its drawbacks, the most significant of which is that many social and political theorists define it differently. Many theorists equate power with only one of the three senses that I have delineated, usually power‑over.' But although my definition does not capture all aspects of standard usage, it is better suited than others to the interests that feminists bring to the study of power. If we want to satisfy these interests, we have to define power in such a way.

Another potential objection to defining power in this way is that it seems to privilege one of the three senses of power that I have distinguished‑namely, power‑to. If power is defined as the ability or capacity to act, then it is barely distinguishable from power‑to, which is defined as the individual ability or capacity to act so as to attain some end. This might seem to cause problems for my argument in Chapter 1. There, I ar­gued that power cannot simply be equated with empowerment or power‑to; yet my own definition might seem to understand power in precisely that way. Thus, it seems that I have sided with the empower­ment theorists after all.

Yet I have not, in this broad definition, simply sided with the empow­erment theorists. My argument in Chapter 1 against the power‑as‑domi­nation and power‑as‑empowerment models was that each of these con­ceptions yields a one‑sided view of power. It was never my contention that the empowerment theorists have a wholly incorrect understanding of power; I claimed only that their understanding is incomplete because they tend to view their conception of power in opposition to the view held by the domination theorists. The following passage from Held is instruc­tive in this regard:

The relation between mothering person and child . . . yields a new view of power. We are accustomed to thinking of power as something that can be wielded by one person over another, a means by which one person can bend another to his will .... But consider now the very different view of power in the relation between the mothering person and child. The superior power of the mothering person is useless for most of what she aims to achieve in bringing up the child. The mothering person seeks to empower the child to act responsibly; she neither wants to "wield" power nor to defend herself against the power "wielded" by the child."

In this passage, Held presents the conception of power as empowerment as radically different from a conception that defines power as a form of power‑over, or, more specifically, as domination.

I contend that it makes no sense to think of these two conceptions of power as opposed to one another. As Foucault and Butler argue quite persuasively, domination and empowerment are always intertwined with respect to the subject; one is always subject to relations of domina­tion and yet simultaneously empowered to take up the position of a sub­ject in and through that subjection. Moreover these different modalities of power are not just interrelated in practice, they are conceptually inter­related. Exercising power‑over always presupposes exercising power‑to: In order to exercise power over another, one must exercise power in the sense of the capacity or ability to act in such a way as to attain some end. Similarly, exercising power‑with presupposes exercising power‑to: For a group to exercise power in the sense of the collective capacity to act so as to attain some agreed‑upon end, the individual members of that group must also exercise power in the sense of the individual capacity to act so as to attain some end. Although power‑to is the most basic of the three

senses that I have delineated, it is not opposed to either power‑over or power‑with.

This conceptual interrelatedness brings out an important aspect of my account of power: In my view, power‑over, power‑to, and power‑with are not best understood as distinct types or forms of power; rather, they represent analytically distinguishable features of a situation. Just as Arendt noted that, despite the careful analytical distinctions she draws among violence, power, authority, and strength, all of these phenomena may be present in the same situation, I acknowledge that although power‑over, power‑to, and power‑with are analytically distinguishable features of a situation, they may all be present in one interaction. For in­stance, an action that is made possible by collective power‑with necessar­ily presupposes the power‑to of individual members of the collectivity and may also be used as a means to achieving power over others. The feminist struggle over the Equal Rights Amendment provides a nice il­lustration of this point. In their struggle to pass the ERA, a group of indi­vidual actors worked together to achieve the agreed‑upon goal of pass­ing a constitutional amendment that, had it passed, would have constrained the options of those who were in a position to or wanted to discriminate against women. The advantage of the definition of power that 1 have sketched out is that it provides a set of analytical tools that can help us make sense of the complex power relations at work in such a sit­uation.

Introduction; Feminist Conceptions of Power: A Critical Assessment; The Genealogy of Power: Michel Foucault; Power Trouble: Judith Butler's Feminist Genealogy of Power; The Power of Solidarity: Hannah Arendt; A Feminist Conception of Power.

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