The Grammar of Social Power: Power-to, Power-with, Power-despite and Power-over

Political Studies (forthcoming)

Arash Abizadeh
McGill University
There are two rival conceptions of power in modern sociopolitical thought. According to one, all social power reduces to power-over-others. According to another, the core notion is power-to-effect-outcomes, to which even power-over reduces. This article defends seven theses. First, agential social power consists in a relation between agent and outcomes (power-to). Second, not all social power reduces to power-over and, third, the contrary view stems from conflating power-over with a distinct notion: power-despite-resistance. Fourth, the widespread assumption that social power presupposes the capacity to overcome resistance is false: social power includes the capacity to effect outcomes with others’ assistance. Fifth, power-with can be exercised via joint intentional action, strategic coordination and non-strategic coordination. Sixth, agential social power is best analysed as a capacity to effect outcomes, with the assistance of others, despite the resistance of yet others. Seventh, power-over and power-with are not mutually exclusive: each can ground the other.
Keywords Power-over  Power-with  Arendt  Weber  Resistance
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