Sociology Index


Power is the capacity of individuals or institutions to achieve goals even if opposed by others. Sociologists and political scientists, among others, have examined the way power is exercised through political parties and institutions of the state or the way that men exercise power within the family or the work place.

Political power is power held by a group in a society which allows administration of public resources. Political legitimacy for political power is held by the representatives of national sovereignty. Political power can be the extent to which a person or group including an insurgency, terrorist group, or multinational corporation possesses such power is related to the amount of societal influence they can wield.

Since the work of Paul Michel Foucault (1926-1984), however, there has been an interest in the way that ‘knowledge’ itself is an instrument of power. Post-modernist such as Foucault adopt a position of ‘incredulity towards metanarratives’ so they no longer assume the validity of particular ways to look at the world or the truth or objectivity of specific perspectives (such as social science theory).

Rather, Foucault draws attention to the ways in which the theories of the human sciences, including sociology and political science, are themselves the outcome of struggle between different competing perspectives in which one becomes temporarily victorious and then becomes a source of repression and constraint. This perspective has roots in the traditional concerns of the sociology of knowledge.

Power projection (or force projection) is a term used in military and political science to refer to the capacity of a state to implement policy by means of force, or the threat thereof, in an area distant from its own territory. The United States Department of Defense, in its publication J1-02: Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, further defines power projection as "The ability of a nation to apply all or some of its elements of national power - political, economic, informational, or military - to rapidly and effectively deploy and sustain forces in and from multiple dispersed locations to respond to crises, to contribute to deterrence, and to enhance regional stability." - I.C. MacMillan (1978) Strategy Formulation: political concepts, St Paul, MN, West Publishing.

The Evolution of Political Power in Political Development - Herbert H. Werlin, University of Maryland - Journal of Developing Societies, Vol. 24, No. 3, 307-336 (2008)
To understand political science, we must understand political power. Our misunder-standing of political power is especially problematic for those concerned with comparative politics.Political Elasticity (PE) theory, including the concepts of ‘quality of power’ and ‘political software’, is used to examine and clarify such dichotomies as: (i) transitive and intransitive power; (ii) hard and soft forms of power; and (iii) power as a resource and power as a relationship. What PE theory attempts to prove (by presenting many examples and using comparative case studies) is that political power tends to be more elastic (with rubber band and balloon characteristics) in more developed countries than in less developed countries.As the conclusion, the relationship of democracy to the evolution of political power is examined, including questions having to do with corruption, authoritarian rule and bureaucratization.The PE theory is also defended against criticisms that it is ‘untestable’ and ‘tautological’.

Revisiting the Political Power Debates: A Critical Test Based on Twenty Years of House Policymaking - Peoples, Clayton - Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association
Abstract: Social scientists interested in political power have debated for over a century what role special interests play in governmental decision making—a topic that is as timely today as ever. Three main theories have emerged from these debates: state-centered theory, pluralist theory, and elite-power theory. These debates remain unresolved, and political power research has stagnated, partly because recent work has focused on specific policy cases rather than policymaking in general. In this paper, I revisit these debates by testing the three theories with data spanning a twenty-year period of policymaking in the U.S. House, breathing new life into political power research and helping resolve this century-old debate. While my findings suggest that patterns of special interest influence can vary over time, they show clearly that elite-power theory provides the best explanation of the workings of power in House policymaking during the past twenty years. On the practical side, these findings suggest that campaign finance reform may be needed to ensure the voices of the people are heard.

The European Court's Political Power Across Time and Space - Karen J. Alter, Northwestern University - Department of Political Science - Northwestern Law & Econ Research Paper No. 09-03
Abstract: This article extracts from Alter's larger body of work insights on how the political and social context shapes the ECJ's political power and influence. Part I considers how the political context facilitated the constitutionalization of the European legal system. Part II considers how the political context helps determine where and when the current ECJ influences European politics. Part III draws lessons from the ECJ's experience, speculating on how the European context in specific allowed the ECJ to become such an exceptional international court. Part IV lays out a research agenda to investigate the larger question of how social support shapes the role of judges in politics.