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The Meta-Power Paradigm

Impacts and Transformations of Agents, Institutions, and Social Systems-- Capitalism, State, and Democracy in a Global Context

Edited By Tom R. Burns and Peter M. Hall

This work presents, elaborates, and illustrates what is arguably the most important concept in the social sciences: power. It focuses particularly on a major class of power phenomena, meta-power, that is, power over power, transformative and structuring power. This encompasses powers to establish, reform, and transform social systems (institutions, power hierarchies, cultural formations, and socio-technical and infrastructural systems). Understanding meta-power is essential to the effective analysis of the formation of societal structures, their dynamics and evolution. This collection presents numerous illustrations and case studies at local, meso, and macro levels, showing how meta-powering is mobilized and operates in different contexts. The book should be of particular interest to business and management researchers, anthropologists, historians, legal scholars, political scientists, and, of course, sociologists.


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1 “All of social life involves some form of influence, molding, direction or compul- sion” (Stone, 1983:44). However, Stone (1983:44) adds that reducing all such questions to questions of power “renders it almost impossible to make the fine in- tellectual, moral and material distinctions necessary for any serious assessment of change in history” or, one might add, change of the everyday patterns of social life. Power is one of the most important concepts in the social sciences – in part be- cause it relates closely to social control, regulation, and governance and, more gen- erally, causality and causal mechanisms.2 One does not need to emphasize that pow- er notions are highly interdisciplinary: sociologists, political scientists, anthropolo- gists, economists, management scientists, historians and others all make use of them.3 Although social power is endemic to all societies, the concept of power in the social sciences remains amorphous and ambiguous. It has various definitions and refers to a wide spectrum of phenomena. One encounters expressions such as the “power of beliefs,” “people power,” “bargaining power,” “power as control,” “power as coercion,” “the powers of property,” “the power of education,” “the power of ideas,” “the powers of government, of the courts, and of the military,” “the Great Powers”, and ultimately “the power of the gods,” etc. Power and control phenomena are ubiquitous as well as being multiple and diverse in social relationships, networks, enterprises, government agencies, politics, international are- nas and the global society. Many power mechanisms are characteristically difficult to 1...

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