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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 6: Tom R. Burns in collaboration with Peter M. Hall: The Exercise of Power to Transform Structures: Concepts, Principles, and Illustrations of Meta-powering


177 C H A P T E R 6 The Exercise of Power to Transform Structures: Concepts, Principles, and Illustrations of Meta-powering Tom R. Burns in collaboration with Peter M. Hall Meta-power theory not only emphasizes the essential role of power in structural transformations – but also that there are often multiple diverse powers that are mo- bilized and deployed for such purposes. The types of power utilized and the ways in which agential and structural powers are deployed may vary substantially from case to case (that is, from structural project to structural project). The theory emphasizes the factors of vested interests and value orientation in the decision between whether to maintain or transform a structure. Knowledge is another major factor; typically several types of knowledge are brought to bear on a transformation process. There is, above all, the knowledge of an alternative structural design or model; in addition, operative knowledge is required for translating a design or vision into concrete con- structions, in other words, translating the design into functioning structures. Finally, there is social and institutional knowledge which may, might, or must be taken into account and applied in transformative operations in a given institutional context. 1. Meta-Powering Theory Meta-power or transformational power is central to the shaping and reshaping of institutions and societal arrangements – within which collective and individual agents operate and interact. It may be based on diverse forms and mechanisms of power.1 What distinguishes meta-powering is the application of powers with the intent to transform structures....

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