In This Article Power

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Handbooks
  • Empirical Resources
  • Journals
  • Classic Works
  • Marx and Weber

Sociology Power
Stewart Clegg


The concept of power is absolutely central to any understanding of society. The ubiquity of the concept can be seen by a comparative Google search. The score for “social power” is 376 million hits, for “political power” 194 million, which compares with 334 million for “society,” 253 million for “politics,” 52 million for “sociology,” “social class” at 280 million, and “political class” at 111 million. Of course, such measures are crude, but the fact that the combined 470 million social and political power hits outstrip any of the other categories, including the combined hits for “social” and “political class,” indicates the absolute centrality of the concept. However, despite this ubiquity, it is arguably one of the most difficult concepts to make sense of within the social sciences. Nonetheless, power has been a core concept for as long as there has been speculation about the nature of social order. The ancient Greek philosophers of Athens pondered about it, usually in constitutional terms; Christian philosophers such as St. Augustine moralized about it, as Wolin 2004 discusses (see Classic Works); however, it was not until the epochal ideation of the Florentine Machiavelli, in the 16th century, and the Englishman, Hobbes, in 1651, that the foundations for an empirical analysis were established. Machiavelli, the Florentine diplomat and author who lived from 1469 to 1527, writing in his book The Prince (composed around 1513), had little time for noble and normative theories and was strongly empirical and antimoral, reflecting on how power was and should be deployed in statecraft. Hobbes was more concerned with laying foundations for causal analysis. The Hobbesian view proved to be the most influential in mainstream social science, especially as the mid-20th-century Community Power Debate developed. Machiavelli’s work took on renewed interest, however, as the influence of Foucault’s work played out and emphasis shifted from causality to strategy.


For beginning students, several texts provide a more basic entrée to the field. While covering much of the same ground, these also vary somewhat in topics emphasized or covered. The best short introduction remains Lukes 2005 (originally published in 1974). Clegg 1989 is widely recognized as a sound introduction to the field; Haugaard 1997 and Haugaard 2002 are excellent sources for contemporary debates as well. Clegg, et al. 2006 covers all of the aforementioned books in its discussion, plus substantial discussions of Weber, Foucault, Bauman, Goffman, Luhmann, Mann, Flyvbjerg, and others.

  • Clegg, Stewart. 1989. Frameworks of power. London: SAGE.

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    Covers a broad-based genealogy of power that starts with Hobbes and Machiavelli and incorporates many of the major debates along the way.

  • Clegg, Stewart, David Courpasson, and Nelson Phillips. 2006. Power and organizations. Foundations for Organizational Science. London: SAGE.

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    This book is in some respects a follow-up to Clegg 1989. There is much that was not included in the previous volume, in terms of both more recent scholarship and a consideration of major figures omitted from the previous volume, such as Luhmann and Goffman.

  • Haugaard, Mark. 1997. The constitution of power: A theoretical analysis of power, knowledge and structure. Manchester, UK: Manchester Univ. Press.

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    Haugaard provides a strong overview of the field from a structurationist perspective.

  • Haugaard, Mark, ed. 2002. Power: A reader. Manchester, UK: Manchester Univ. Press.

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    There is an excellent introduction by Haugaard; strong on social theory approaches to power.

  • Lukes, Steven. 2005. Power: A radical view. 2d ed. London: Palgrave-Macmillan.

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    The first edition of the definitive book on power was published in 1974: the book is elegant, economical, and focused. The 2005 edition reprises all of the 1974, original volume with an extended commentary by the author selectively addressing some criticisms of the first edition.

LAST MODIFIED: 07/27/2011

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199756384-0068

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