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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

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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C H A P T E R 1: Tom R. Burns in collaboration with Peter M. Hall and Patrick W. McGinty: Conceptualizing Power and Meta-power: Causalities, Mechanisms, and Constructions


21 C H A P T E R 1 Conceptualizing Power and Meta-power: Causalities, Mechanisms, and Constructions Tom R. Burns in collaboration with Peter M. Hall and Patrick W. McGinty1 This chapter outlines and illustrates a social power paradigm based on a new ap- proach to causation, action processes, and social construction. It aims to overcome several of the major limitations of earlier social science work of, for example, Dahl, Lukes, Barnett and Duvall, Guzzini, Mann, and 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 conceptualized and exemplified. Section 1 provides a background to the theoretical work presented in the book. The section focuses largely on the major contemporary social theorist of power, Stephen Lukes (1974). 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 Dahl, Barnett and Duvall, Guzzini, Mann, Searle and Weber are briefly outlined. Of particular im- portance is their failure to systematically specify and analyze meta-power, the fun- damental powering in any society. Section 2 briefly presents causal power theory, postulating multiple causalities and powering mechanisms based on concrete actions or operations. Three general modalities of power are identified and analyzed: social structural and agential influ- ences as well as material/ecological forces. These typically make up complexes of regulatory mechanisms. Intentionality/non-intentionality and agential/systemic are critical dimensions. Section 3 introduces the...

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