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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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C H A P T E R 2: Tom Baumgartner, Walter Buckley, and Tom R. Burns: Meta-power and Relational Control in Social Life


83 C H A P T E R 2 Meta-power and Relational Control in Social Life Tom Baumgartner, Walter Buckley, and Tom R. Burns Introduction Power and social control are typically conceptualized and investigated in terms of interpersonal or intergroup relationships in which one actor tries to get another to do something, usually against the latter’s will (e.g., Blau, 1964). The object of power is more or less direct behavioral control. However, such an approach to the study of power captures only a part of the power activities of groups, organizations, and states. A large, and historically more important part involves attempts to structure or re- structure the social and cultural matrix within which power activities are to be played out. A given institutional or socio-cultural structure may be viewed as the macroscopic resultant of the application of power to determine permissable or ac- ceptable activities and relationships of individuals and groups to one another and to forms of property or resources. This system also defines the distribution of benefits and costs for categories of persons and groups. Our approach in this paper views the exercise of power as oriented substantially toward the attempted shaping of this structure of social relationships (in the broad- est sense including economic and political relationships) (see also Baumgartner et al., 1975a, 1975b, 1975c). We refer to the exercise of such “meta-power” as relational control, that is control over social relationships and social structure. Relational con- trol is used by particular groups to promote or...

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