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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 9: Tom R. Burns in collaboration with Philippe DeVille and Anne Marie Kolliokoski: Societal Systems of Power and Meta-Power: Capitalism, State, and Democratic Arrangements


291 C H A P T E R 9 Societal Systems of Power and Meta-Power: Capitalism, State, and Democratic Arrangements Tom R. Burns in collaboration with Philippe DeVille and Anne Marie Kolliokoski Part One: Social Systems Analysis 1. Introduction The chapter focuses on three major subsystems of a modern society, capitalist and state systems as well as democratic institutional arrangements: these are large-scale complex structures of power and meta-power. In a certain sense, the chapter ex- tends and elaborates the notion of multiple powers in structuring and regulating people, resources, social relationships, and complex social systems themselves. The aims of the chapter are several: To focus on the organization and functioning of each of these systems, iden- tifying a number of organizational properties, biases, and impacts. To illustrate some of the ways that capitalist and state institutions are com- plex power and control systems in and through which their rule regimes, agents, and resources structure, regulate, and frequently transform social life, impacting substantially on people’s conditions of life, life chances, and wider societal developments. To identify specific structural powers in each of these complex systems relat- ing to authority over people and resources and related bases of power (prop- erty rights, administrative authority, political leadership, and police powers). Some of what we discuss is already well-known; our aim here is to examine these complex power systems in light of a systematic theory of power. To indicate ways in which the systems structure and regulate flows – flows of resources, people, and...

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