The Two Faces of Power by Peter Bachrach and Morton S. Baratz — A Summary

Peter Bachrach and Morton S. Baratz, “Two Faces of Power,” The American Political Science Review 56, no. 4 (1962): 947–52.

Sociologically oriented researchers have consistently found that power is highly centralised while scholars trained in political science have just as regularly argued that power is widely diffused. This explains why the latter group calls itself “pluralist” and, its counterpart, “elitist”.

The central claim of this article is that there are two faces of power, neither of which the sociologists see and only one of which the political scientists see.


The elitist approach wrongly assumes that there is an ordered system of power, a “power structure” which is an integral part and the mirror image of the organization’s stratification [at bottom, nobody dominates in a community]; further that this power structure remains stable over time [power is tied to issues which can be fleeting or persistent]; and finally that actual power is equivalent to reputed power [there is no way of disconfirming a hypothesis which presumes that some actors is always really engaged in running a community].

Such are the issues that the pluralists bring up against the elitists and they are well-founded. The pluralists, for their part, concentrate their attention not upon the sources of power but its exercise. They are interested not in the reputedly powerful but instead in actual participation in decision making understood through the examination of a series of concrete decisions. However, they fail to (a) take into account for the fact that power may be, and often is, exercised by confining the scope of decision-making to relatively “safe” issues, and (b) provide objective criteria for distinguishing between “important” and “unimportant” issues arising in the political arena.


We have to agree with the pluralists that an analysis grounded entirely upon what is specific and visible to the outside observer is more “scientific” than one based upon pure speculation. But can we agree with their assumption that power is totally embodied and fully reflected in “concrete decisions” or in activity bearing directly upon their making, which can be observed?’

“We think not. Of course, power is exercised when A participates in the making of decisions that affect B [the first face]. But power is also exercised when A devotes his energies to creating or reinforcing social and political values and institutional practices that limit the scope of the political process to public consideration of only those issues which are comparatively innocuous to A. To the extent that A succeeds in doing this, B is prevented, for all practical purposes, from bringing to the fore any issues that might in their resolution be seriously detrimental to A’s set of preferences [the second (restrictive) face].”

[T]o the extent that a person or group — consciously or unconsciously — creates or reinforces barriers to the public airing of policy conflicts, that person or group has power.

Can [the student of power] safely ignore the possibility, for instance, that an individual or group in a community participates more vigorously in supporting the nondecision-making process than in participating in actual decisions within the process?

By ignoring this aspect, the pluralists overlook the less important but nonetheless extremely important face of power.


There remains the question of “key” and “routine” political decisions. The pluralists are wont to suggest that certain key and significant issues be identified for analysis.

In his critique of the “ruling-elite model,” Professor Dahl argues that “the hypothesis of the existence of a ruling elite can be strictly tested only if ... [t]here is a fair sample of cases involving key political decisions in which the preferences of the hypothetical ruling elite run counter to those of any other likely group that might be suggested.” [Quoted from Robert A. Dahl, “A Critique of the Ruling-ELite Model”, 1958, p. 466] (emphasis added)

Nelson Polsby, for example, proposes that “by pre-selecting as issues for study those which are generally agreed to be significant, pluralist researchers can test stratification theory.” [Quoted from Nelson W. Polsby, “How to Study Community Power: The Pluralist Alternative”, 1960, p. 478] (emphasis added)

But what issues are key or significant, and how are they understood to be so? Indeed, why suppose that there are significant issues in the political arena in any community? By doing so, the very question in doubt is being taken for granted. 

“The distinction between important [key or significant] and unimportant [routine] issues, we believe, cannot be made intelligently in the absence of an analysis of [organisation understood as] the “mobilisation of bias” in the community; of the dominant values and the political myths, rituals, and institutions which tend to favour the vested interests of one or more groups, relative to others.”

All forms of political organization have a bias in favour of the exploitation of some kinds of con£ict and the suppression of others, because organization is the mobilization of bias. Some issues are organized into politics while others are organized [Quoted from Elmer Eric Schattschneider, The Semisovereign People: A Realist’s View of Democracy in America, 1960, p. 70]


[This section is a critique of Dahl’s work Who Governs? Democracy and Power in an American City (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961) in the light of the conceptual insight thus outlined in previous sections. I ignore this because my interest in the essay, like in most others I summarise, is only conceptual.]



“[A] fresh approach to the study of power is called for, an approach based upon a recognition of the two faces of power. Under this approach the researcher would begin … by investigating the particular “mobilization of bias” in the institution under scrutiny.

Then, having analyzed the dominant values, the myths and the established political procedures and rules of the game, he would make a careful inquiry into which persons or groups, if any, gain from the existing bias and which, if any, are handicapped by it.

Next, he would investigate the dynamics of nondecision-making; that is, he would examine the extent to which and the manner in which the status quo oriented persons and groups influence those community values and those political institutions … which tend to limit the scope of actual decision-making to “safe” issues.

Finally, using his knowledge of the restrictive face of power as a foundation for analysis and as a standard for distinguishing between “key” and “routine” political decisions, the researcher would, after the manner of the pluralists, analyze participation in decision-making of concrete issues.”

The Concept of Power by Robert A. Dahl — A Summary

Robert A. Dahl, “The Concept of Power,” Behavioral Science 2, no. 3 (December 11, 1957): 201–15.

The concept of power is as ancient and ubiquitous as any that social theory can boast. Given this ubiquity, one suspects that there indeed exists such a Thing as power which can more or less be systematically studied. But one also suspects that perhaps the ubiquity of “power” reflects the existence of not one Thing but many Things, indeed as many Things as the theorists of society who have used it. It is difficult to know which of these is correct. The evidence is not yet in. 

However, it should be possible to define the concept “power” in a way that seems to catch the central intuitively understood meaning of the word.

We are not likely to produce — certainly not for some considerable time to come — anything like a single, consistent, coherent “Theory of Power.” We are much more likely to produce a variety of theories of limited scope, each of which employs some definition of power that is useful in the context of the particular piece of research or theory but different in important respects from the definitions of other studies.

This essay will propose a formal definition of power which captures its intuitive meaning. It will then indicate how operational definitions have been or might be modelled on the formal one for specific research problems.

[Comment: The summary concerns only with the first. Because, for one, the abiding interest of subsequent interventions regarding Dahl’s concept of power (mostly from a critical standpoint) has been in the formal and not the operational part the essay. For another, I am simply not interested in the operational part; I am not interested in such trite projects as “rank[ing] a number of Senators with respect to their influence over the Senate on questions of foreign affairs”, which Dahl does with a lot of self-belief and in some detail (see pp. 209–214). Given that Dahl was writing during the heyday of Behaviouralism — the essay itself was published in Behavioral Science! — and was a major figure in that tradition, his interest in the operational aspect is understandable.]

Power as a Relation among People

The intuitive understanding of power is this:  A has power over B to the extent that A can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do.

Power, we see, is a relation. To specify it further, it is a relation among people. Of course, one can possess power over inanimate objects or over animals, but from the point of view of social theory, the interesting aspect of power lies in this limited relationship. Let us call the objects in this relationship actors. These need not only be individuals. They could be groups, roles, offices, governments, nation-states, or other human aggregates.

Now to say that A has power over B is neither interesting, nor informative, nor even accurate. An interesting and useful statement will have to, in addition to the fact that A has power over B, include references to  (a) the source, domain, or base of A power over B; (b) the means or instruments used by A to exert power over B; (c) the amount or extent of A’s power over B; and (d) the range or scope of A’s power over B.

Let’s examine these elements using the following example: The US President has (some) power over Congress. The base of power consists of all the resources — opportunities, acts, objects, etc. — which can be exploited in order to effect the behavior of another. Some of the possible bases of a President’s power over a Senator are his patronage, his constitutional veto, the possibility of calling White House conferences, his influence with the national electorate, his charisma, his charm, and the like.

This base is inert and must be exploited using various means or instruments. In the case of the President, these would include the promise of patronage, the threat of veto, the holding of a conference, the threat of appeal to the electorate, the exercise of charm and charisma, etc. These means, say the threat of veto, may involve actual or potential use of the base of power.

The means mediate between A’s base and B’s responseThe scope consists of B’s responses. The scope of the President’s power might therefore include such Congressional actions as passing or killing a bill, failing to override a veto, holding hearings, etc. 

Finally, the amount of an A’s power is the probability of realising the scope given the use of certain means. To use the example, we might say the amount of power the US President has over the Senate is the probability that, for instance, the Senate will not override his veto if the President promises a judgeship to five key Senators.

Properties of the Power Relation

1. A necessary condition for the power relation is that there exists a time lag, however small, from the actions of the actor who is said to exert power to the responses of the respondent. A can hardly be said to have power over B unless A’s power attempts precede B’s responses

2. A second necessary condition is, like the first, obvious and nonetheless important in research: there is no “action at a distance.” Unless there is some “connection” between A and B, then no power relation can be said to exist. In looking for a flow of power from A to B, one must always find out whether there is a connection, or an opportunity for a connection, and if there is not, then one need proceed no further.

3. Some additional properties may be specified with respect to the amount of power. Consider the example we encountered before: the amount of power the US President has over the Senate is the probability that the Senate will override his veto if the President promises a judgeship to five key Senators.

Let (P,u) be the case in which the President promises to offer judgeship and (P,ū) be the case in which he does not make that promise. Let (S,o) be the case in which the Senate overrides his veto.

Let p be the probability that the Senate overrides the President’s veto when he promises the judgeship [p=P(S,o|P,u)] and p’ be the probability that the Senate overrides the President’s veto when he does not promise any judgeship [p=P(S,o|P,ū)]

  • If p=p’, no power relation exists. The Senate will override the President’s veto whether or not he promises to offer the judgeship.
  • If p’=1, and p=0, the amount of power is at a maximum. p=0 means that the President will unfailingly get the Senate to allow his veto if he promises the judgeships; p’=1 means that the Senate will unfailingly override his veto if he does not promise the judgeships.
  • If p=1, and p’=0, the amount of power is at a minimum. p=1 means that even if the President promises the judgeships, the senate will unfailingly override his veto; p’=0 means that the senate will not override his veto even if he does not promise the judgeships. Here there is the possibility that the amount of power be negative. This is simply the production of an opposite effect by the exercise of a means of power. The Legion of Decency sometimes seems to have this kind of power over moviegoers.

Power Comparability

How do we compare power? It is a matter of obvious fact that Stalin was in many ways more powerful than Roosevelt. But what do we mean by this?

If we wish to compare power between two individuals, we have at least
five factors that might be included in a comparison:

  1. differences in the basis/bases of their power,
  2. differences in means of employing the basis,
  3. differences in the scope of their power, i.e., in the type of response evoked,
  4. differences in the number of comparable respondents, and
  5. differences in the change in probabilities.

The first two are properties of actor exercising power, A, and the last three, of the respondent, B, in the power relationship. While most interesting research on power thus far has been concerned with the first two, they are not really interesting. “[A]nalysis of the first two items does not, strictly speaking, provide us with a comparison of the power of two or more actors, except insofar as it permits us to make inferences about the last three items. 

The elements of national power approach to power analysis is a variant of the power-as-resources approach. In this approach, power resources are treated as if they were power itself. One problem with this approach is that what functions as a power asset in one situation may be a power liability in a different situation.

David A. Baldwin, “Power and International Relations”, in Handbook of International Relations, SAGE, 2002.

Therefore, in whatever way one defines the properties of the As who are being being compared, strictly speaking, one must compare them with respect to the responses they are capable of evoking, i.e. with respect to the last three factors.

Let’s look at them one by one. We shall begin by assuming that two of the last three are identical such that the difference in the third property shall reflect a difference in power. This throws up a great many difficulties. 

Say that the 4th and 5th factors are the same so that comparison of power can be made by reference to the 3rd factor, i.e. scope. The problem that arises here is how exactly do we understand a difference in scope? Suppose that I induce my son to bathe every evening and to brush his teeth before going to bed while my neighbor induces his son to serve him breakfast in bed every morning. Can the two responses I control compared to the one controlled by my neighbour lead to the conclusion that I have more power?

Say, further, that the 3rd and 5th factors are the same so that comparison of power can be made by reference to the 4th factor, i.e. number of respondents. The same problem arises here as well. “If I can induce 49 undergraduates to support or oppose federal aid to education, you will scarcely regard this as equivalent to the power I would have if I could induce 49 Senators to support or oppose federal aid.”

This problem does not arise with the 5th factor. The 3rd and 4th factors being equal, we can say that the actor who has the higher probability of securing the response is more powerful. This simply means that that actor has a greater amount of power (see above).

“There is, as everyone knows, many a slip ’twixt principle and practice. How can one convert the theoretical measure [of the amount of power] into a measure usable in practical research? Specifically, suppose one wishes to examine the power relations among some group of people — a city council, legislature, community, faculty, trade union. One wants to rank the individuals in the group according to their power. How can one do so?”

[Comment: And thus starts what I have called the operational part of this essay (see above). I leave that for readers to check our for themselves if they are interested. I, for one, am not, for Dahl himself concludes:

In a word, the researcher himself must define what he means by comparability and he must do so in view of the purpose of the ranking he is seeking to arrive at, the information available, and the relevant theoretical constructs governing the research. (p. 209)]

Governmentality by Michel Foucault — A Summary


Michel Foucault, “Governmentality,” in The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality, ed. Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 87–104.
[Google Drive Link]

From 1970 until his death, Michel Foucault occupied the chair, created in November 1969, called “The History of Systems of Thought” at the Collège de France. In this institution, all professors (each of them occupies a chair and there are 51 of them at the moment, i.e. in 2018), are obliged to present their original research through courses which are completely open to all. Foucault taught there from January 1971 until his death in June 1984. “Governmentality” was a lecture presented on 1 February 1978 as part of the course on “Security, Territory, Population”. 

A (very slightly) edited version was republished in Power, ed. Paul Rabinow, vol. 3, The Essential Works of Michel Foucault: 1954-1984 (New York: The New Press, 1997), 201–22.

A new (and much better) translation — not least because it was directly translated from the French unlike the other one which was translated from an Italian translation — with very useful footnotes can be found in Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the College de France, 1977-78, ed. Michel Senellart, trans. Graham Burchell (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 87–114.
[Google Drive Link

This is a complex lecture and assumes a fairly well-read student.

If “governmentality” is completely new to you, check out this YouTube video (from an International Relations perspective, 11 minutes), this Encyclopedia Britannica entry  and this learned introduction from the blog Critical Legal Thinking, in order, before proceeding.

Note that the phrase “art of government” is used in two different senses — that (interpreted to be) espoused by Machiavelli, and that espoused by the writers responding to Machiavelli.

Even more fundamentally, the term “government” itself has a very broad general meaning. As he clarifies in the lecture of 8 February:

Before it acquires its specifically political meaning in the sixteenth century, we can see that “to govern,” covers a very wide semantic domain in which it refers to movement in space, material subsistence, diet, the care given to an individual and the health one can assure him, and also to the exercise of command, of a constant, zealous, active, and always benevolent prescriptive activity. It refers to the control one may exercise over oneself and others, over someone’s body, soul, and behavior. And finally it refers to an intercourse, to a circular process or process of exchange between one individual and another. Anyway, one thing clearly emerges through all these meanings, which is that one never governs a state, a territory, or a political structure. Those whom one governs are people, individuals, or groups.

Also, an important distinction that runs throughout the course, including this lecture, is the one drawn between sovereignty, discipline, and security, or more precisely between legal mechanisms, disciplinary mechanisms, and apparatuses of security. The best introduction to these will be the first three lectures which precede this lecture which is being summarised. I need not dwell on the significance especially of the notions of discipline which he had explored in Discipline and Punish and apparatus (dispositif) which is the object of the 1978 course.

Political writing concerning the ‘art’ of government —  of the self (by the self), of souls (by the priest), of children (by the father/teacher) and, especially, of the state (by the prince) — develops and flourishes starting from the 16th century till the end of the  18th. Questions concerning “[h]ow to govern oneself, how to be governed, how to govern others, by whom the people will accept being governed, how to become the best possible governor” — the “problematic of government” — become salient in this period thanks to the double movement of (a) state centralisation due to the fall of feudalism and (b) religious dispersion due to the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation.

What emerges in these writings as the actual definition of what is meant by the government of the state may be fruitfully examined against the backdrop of Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince which is the starting point and well as the point of departure for the new literature on the art of government.

For this new literature, Machiavelli’s Prince was characterized by one principle: he exists in a relationship of “externality and singularity” to his principality.[1] That’s to say, the Prince has  no “fundamental, essential, natural and juridical connection” with his principality, as opposed to say, the father who has precisely such a connection with his child. “The link that binds him to his principality may have been established through violence, through family heritage or by treaty, with the complicity or the alliance of other princes; this makes no difference, the link in any event remains a purely synthetic one.” This being so, the link is fragile and constantly under threat. If the prince wants to maintain his principality, he has to strengthen this link and it is this link — “the prince’s relation with what he owns” — that is the object of Machiavelli’s art of government. To put the point more blatantly, the object of government is not the principality, or the even the people who comprise that principality, but rather the tenuous and fragile link which connects the Prince to his principality.

As a consequence of this the mode of analysis of Machiavelli's text will be twofold: to identify dangers (where they come from, what they consist in, their severity: which are the greater, which the slighter), and, secondly, to develop the art of manipulating relations of force that will allow the prince to ensure the protection of his principality, understood as the link that binds him to his territory and his subjects.

It is this very notion of the art of government extant in Machiavelli that is being questioned by the new political writing. The authors writing in response to Machiavelli argue that possessing this particular art of government, that of holding on to one’s principality which they find espoused by Machiavelli, does not amount to possessing the art of government. Machiavelli’s art of government cannot be the actual (true/proper) art of government: the art of government is something else. What does it comprise?

Consider Guillaue de La Perrière’s Le Miroir politique, contenant diverses manières de gouverner (1555).

Firstly, it is recognised that the art of government in not to be associated with the prince alone. La Perrière writes that the term “governor can signify monarch, emperor, king, prince, lord, magistrate, prelate, judge and the like”. This may seem purely terminological but has important political implications because it suggests that there are multifarious forms of government (see first paragraph) among which the Prince governing his state is only one. In addition, these forms of government are internal to the state. That’s to say that the government of the family by the father, for instance, happens within the boundaries of the state. The art of government in this view is then characterised by “plurality and immanence” while for Machivelli’s Prince, the art of government is characterised by “singularity and externality”.

Of course, in this plurality, the special case of the government of the state — a form of government which is to be applied to the state as a whole — remains to be articulated.

François de La Mothe Le Vayer distinguishes between “three fundamental types of government, each of which relates to a particular science or discipline: the art of self-government, connected with morality; the art of properly governing a family, which belongs to economy; and finally the science of ruling the state, which concerns politics.”

The important point is that these three forms form an ascending continuity in that “person who wishes to govern the state well must first learn how to govern himself, his goods and his patrimony, after which he will be successful in governing the state.” This ascending continuity is ensured by the education of the prince. Le Vayer wrote for the French Dauphin, Louis XIV, first a treatise of morality, then a book of economics and lastly a political treatise.

They form a descending continuity as well in that “when a state is well run, the head of the family will know how to look after his family, his goods and his patrimony, which means that individuals will, in turn, behave as they should.” This continuity in which the good government of the state affects individual conduct or family management is secured by what came to be known as the “police”.

The central term here between these forms of government, the connector, is the government of the family, termed economy. Essentially, concern with the art of government of the state as a whole becomes that of introducing the management of the family — the meticulous attention that the father devotes to his wife, children, servants, and the family’s fortunes — into into the management of the state. Put differently, the concern becomes that of turning private economy — the proper way of managing individuals, goods, and wealth —  into political economy.

[T]he problem, writes [Jean-Jacques] Rousseau [in Discours sur l’économie politique], is how to introduce [the wise government of the family], mutatis mutandis, and with all the discontinuities that we will observe below, into the general running of the state. To govern a state will therefore mean to apply economy, to set up an economy at the level of the entire state, which means exercising towards its inhabitants, and the wealth and behaviour of each and all, a form of surveillance and control as attentive as that of the head of a family over his household and his goods.

Secondly, La Perrière defines government as “the right disposition of things, arranged so as to lead to a convenient end. (emphasis added)” What are these “things”? “Things” are men in their relationships with things like customs, habits, ways of acting and thinking. For Machiavelli, the objects or targets of his power are his territory and its inhabitants. For La Perrière, it is something else. The “things” to be governed are neither the subjects nor the territory in which they live. Rather they are men in their relationships, bonds, and complex involvements with things like wealth, resources, means of subsistence, and, of course, the territory with its borders, qualities, climate, dryness, fertility, and so on.[3]

Governing a ... family, does not essentially mean safeguarding the family property; what concerns it is the individuals that compose the family, their wealth and prosperity. It means to reckon with all the possible events that may intervene, such as births and deaths, and with all the things that can be done, such as possible alliances with other families; it is this general form of management that is characteristic of government.

Thirdly, government is directed to ‘a convenient end’. For theorists of sovereignty, the object or end of sovereignty is the common good which is essentially obedience to the law, whether divinely ordained or legislated by mortals. This end of sovereignty is realised by the exercise of sovereignty. Note the singular and circular logic. The good (which is the end) is obedience to the law, so that the good proposed by sovereignty is that people obey the sovereign. In La Perrière, this end is not “the form of the common good”. Rather, it is something which is “‘convenient’ for each of the things that are to be governed.” The end then is not a singular and circular one but a plurality of specific ends. Moreover, these ends are to be attained not by imposing laws (like the sovereign does) but instead by disposing — managing or arranging — things in ways such that the specific ends may be achieved.[3]

I believe we are at an important turning point here: whereas the end of sovereignty is internal to itself and possesses its own intrinsic instruments in the shape of its laws, the finality of government resides in the things it manages and in the pursuit of the perfection and intensification of the processes which it directs; and the instruments of government, instead of beings laws, now come to be a range of multiform tactics.

Lastly, and this is a simple and elementary point, what is central to government is that the governor be patient, meaning that the true governor should not need a weapon for killing, a sword, in order to exercise his government. This being the case, the governor must be wise, understood as having knowledge of the things he manages and diligent, understood as his acting in such a way as if he were in the service of those he is governing.

This abstract notion of the art of government did not remain speculative but had correlations in reality. It got linked to (a) the development of various administrative and governmental apparatuses, (b) forms of knowledge having to do with the state, i.e., the science of government or “statistics”, and (c) mercantilism and cameralism in the late 16th and early 17th century. 

[Comment: The 2007 translation which was prepared based on audio recordings of the lecture reports that all previous versions and translations, including the one used for this summary, have some sentences missing (after cameralism, see previous paragraph) and an extra paragraph (the paragraph that spans pages 96-97 in the translation used [from The Foucault Effect]). The summary follows the new translation in this regard. End Comment]

However, this notion of the art of government could not realise its full scope before the 18th century. For one, there were “massive and elementary historical causes”. These were such events as the Thirty Years War, peasant and urban rebellions, and the crises of finance. The art of government could only spread and develop in subtlety in an age of expansion, free from the great military, political and economic tensions.

For another, the continued pre-eminence of the problem of sovereignty, for reasons already hinted at, left little space for the art of government to develop sufficiently autonomously. Consider mercantilism. It represents the first application of the art of government. It is the “first rationalisation of the exercise of power as a practice of government”. However, as its object was the sovereign’s might, and its instruments — laws, decrees, regulations — those of sovereignty, it remained immobilized by the institution of sovereignty. The art of government, then, was hampered by the rigid, large, and abstract framework of sovereignty. It is in order to make workable the art of government without dispensing the overall framework of sovereignty that the theories of contract appear in the 17th century. 

This art of government tried, so to speak, to reconcile itself with the theory of sovereignty by attempting to derive the ruling principles of an art of government from a renewed version of the theory of sovereignty — and this is where those seventeenth-century jurists come into the picture who formalize or ritualize the theory of the contract. Contract theory enables the founding contract, the mutual pledge of ruler and subjects, to function as a sort of theoretical matrix for deriving the general principles of an art of government.

And finally, the art of government suffered because of its continued reliance on the weak and thin model of the family. How could this model of the family — too thin, too weak and too insubstantial — hope to succeed at the level of the state?

How then was the art of government able to outflank these obstacles?

The rigid framework of sovereignty was broken by the emergence of the problem of population and the subsequent rise of the science of government (or statistics). Statistics refocused the political economy on the population (which is analogous to the family in private economy). It also helped in identifying problems specific to the population which in turn enabled reflection on the art of government outside the juridical framework of sovereignty.

“In what way did the problem of population make possible the derestriction of the art of government?”

First, it helped overcome the limiting model of the family as a model for government by providing a new model, that of population. Statistics enabled the quantification of the specific phenomena of population — deaths, diseases, scarcity, epidemics, aggregate wealth, etc. — and showed that these specificities are irreducible to the dimension of the family, which then had to disappear as the model of government. The family no longer remains a model but instead becomes a privileged instrument since the information that will constitute the statistics of the population has to be collected on the basis of the family.

The new science called political economy arises out of the perception of new networks of continuous and multiple relations between population, territory and wealth; and this is accompanied by the formation of a type of intervention characteristic of government, namely intervention in the field of economy and population. In other words, the transition which takes place in the 18th century from an art of government to a political science, from a regime dominated by structures of sovereignty to one ruled by techniques of government, turns on the theme of population and hence also on the birth of political economy.

Second, population — its welfare, improvement, health and wealth — became the end of government, that is to say, the target of its tactics and techniques. The end of government is no longer the act of government itself as it was with sovereignty but the government of the needs and aspirations of the population.

Third, the population and the processes (or ‘specificities’) related to it becomes the object of knowledge for the government. It is the population that government will have to take into account in order to govern effectively in a rationally reflected manner. “The constitution of a savoir of government is absolutely inseparable from that of a knowledge of all the processes related to population in Its larger sense: that is to say, what we now call the economy.” And it is here, in the transition from structures of sovereignty to techniques of government centered on the population, that the art of government becomes the science of government.

[T]he transition which takes place in the eighteenth century from an art of government to a political science, from a regime dominated by structures of sovereignty to one ruled by techniques of government, turns on the theme of population and hence also on the birth of political economy.

Having said these, neither sovereignty nor discipline became less important as the art of government developed into the science of government. In fact, the question of sovereignty was posed with more sharpness at this stage when it, given the existence and deployment of an art of government, had to be given a juridical form and foundation.

[Comment: Foucault retracts the word “science” in the following lecture of 8 February.

In short, we need to analyze the relations of power on which the sixteenth century arts of government set their sights, which are also the target of seventeenth century mercantilist theory and practice, and which, finally, are the aim — and maybe reach a certain threshold of, I think last week I said science, but this is a thoroughly bad and disastrous word; let’s say a certain level of political competence — in, broadly speaking, the physiocratic doctrine of “economic government”.

End Comment]

Consider Rousseau’s Political Economy (1755) and The Social Contract (1762) in chronological succession. In the former, he remarks that the model of the family is no longer adequate for the general problem of population. Private economy is quite distinct from political economy. Then, in the latter, the concern is how a general principle of government can be found that will allow for both the juridical principle of sovereignty and the elements of the art of government. The problem of sovereignty does not disappear.

Much the same can be said for discipline. It was never more important or more valued than when the attempt was made to manage the population. “[T]he managing of a population not only concerns the collective mass of phenomena, the level of its aggregate effects, it also implies the management of population in its depths and its details.”

Accordingly, we need to see things not in terms of the replacement of a society of sovereignty by a disciplinary society and the subsequent replacement of a disciplinary society by a society of government; in reality one has a triangle, sovereignty–discipline–government, which has as its primary target the population.

Instead of calling this course “Security, Territory, Population”, it would have been better to call it “A History of Governmentality”. By governmentality is meant at least the following three things. First, it is the realisation/exercise of a  complex form of power targeted towards management of the population by the ensemble of “institutions, procedures, analyses and reflections, the calculations and tactics”, using political economy as the form of knowledge, through “apparatuses of security”. Second, it is the process by which this particular form of power with its associated apparatuses of security and the complexes of knowledge have become pre-eminent. Third, it is the process by which the state has assumed this form of power, i.e., the process by which the state has become governmentalised.

  1. The ensemble formed by the institutions, procedures, analyses and reflections, the calculations and tactics that allow the exercise of this very specific albeit complex form of power, which has as its target population, as its principal form of knowledge political economy, and as its essential technical means apparatuses of security.
  2. The tendency which, over a long period and throughout the West, has steadily led towards the pre-eminence over all other forms (sovereignty, discipline, etc.) of this type of power which may be termed government, resulting, on the one hand, in the formation of a whole series of specific governmental apparatuses, and, on the other, in the development of a whole complex of savoirs.
  3. The process, or rather the result of the process, through which the state of justice of the Middle Ages, transformed into the administrative state during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, gradually becomes ‘governmentalized’.

To assert that the state has become governmentalised is to reject the both the simplistic understanding of state as a cold monster hell-bent on subjugating us as well as the reductionist understanding of the state as the performer of such and such functions. 

Somewhere still there are peoples and herds, but not where we live, my  brothers: here there are states.
State? What is that? Well then, lend me your ears now, for I shall say my words about the death of peoples.
State is the name of the coldest of all cold monsters. It even lies coldly, and this lie crawls out of its mouth: “I, the state, am the people.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part I, (Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy).

This is important because “the state, no more probably today than at any other time in its history, does not have this unity, this individuality, this rigorous functionality, nor, to speak frankly, this importance; maybe, after all, the state is no more than a composite reality and a mythicized abstraction, whose importance is a lot more limited than many of us think. Maybe what is really important for our modernity — that is, for our present — is not so much the étatisation of society as the ‘governmentalization’ of the state.”


[1] Whether or not this interpretation is correct is not important. What is important is the it was interpreted in this way.

“Let us leave aside the question of whether the interpretation of Machiavelli in these debates was accurate or not.” (p. 89)

[2] Consider this metaphor. To govern a ship means to take care of the ship and sailors. But it also means to take care of its cargo, to reckon with storms, to establish relations between the sailors and the cargo and the ship all of which are to be taken care of. Government relates to this complex of men and things.

[3] Foucault contrasts sovereignty with government as part of this point. The end of sovereignty, understood as the common good, is achieved essentially by obedience to the law, which is given by the sovereign. The purpose of sovereignty then is served by the exercise of sovereignty. The end of government, on the other hand, is a plurality of specific ends which are convenient for each of the things governed and which will be achieved through a mutiplicity of tactics, of which law is but only one. The purpose of government is served by the application of tactics to the things it manages.

Power and International Relations by David A. Baldwin — A Summary

David A. Baldwin, “Power and International Relations”, in Handbook of International Relations, eds. Walter Carlsnaes, Thomas Risse and Beth A. Simmons, (London: SAGE Publications, 2002).

The role and nature of power remain thoroughly discussed yet still unresolved topics in international relations. The only agreement concerns the unsatisfactory state of knowledge regarding the role of power and the necessity of addressing it.

Power and the Study of International Politics

All politics is about power in the sense that all politics involves power. This is not to say that politics is only about power. Traditionally, the states with the most military power — the Great Powers — partook in international politics. The 18th-century saw the inclusion of additional parameters like “population, territory, wealth armies and navies” which evolved into the “elements of national power” approach introduced by Morgenthau. States were depicted as seeking to maximize power relative to each other. This approach produced the “balance of power” analysis which assumes the possibility of calculating power distribution amongst states by adding up the elements of power.

The Power Analysis Revolution

The latter half of the 20th-century saw the development of a new approach that looked at power as a relation between actors rather than, as the earlier notion of ‘elements of national power’ did, as a possession of actors.

Dimensions of Power

The shift to a relational concept made power a multidimensional concept.

SCOPE The aspects of B’s behaviour affected by A. This implies that an actor’s power on different issues may vary.

DOMAIN The number of Bs that are subject to the influence of A.

WEIGHT The likelihood that B’s behaviour will be changed.

COSTS The costs to both A and B in the exercise of the power relation.

MEANS The ways through which A can exercise influence over B: symbolic, economic, military and diplomatic.

There is no agreement on which dimensions should be considered. At a minimum, however, any meaningful enquiry must include at least scope and domain. This multidimensionality creates the problem of measurement as there is no standard measuring unit. Estimates of an actor’s power have therefore been always controversial.

Faces of Power

The ‘Faces of Power’ debate discussed whether control of agendas and of desires and thoughts could be taken into account while studying power. These two matters can be easily accommodated in the basic causal concept of power — Dahl’s formulation. A can cause B to do something that B would otherwise not do by controlling B’s agenda (options) or by affecting B’s thoughts and preferences. A reconceptualisation of power is not necessary.

International Power Analysis

Despite the increasing consensus on the relational power approach, the elements of national power approach remains deeply embedded in international relations literature. This has created problems in the analysis of power.

The Potential Power Problem

The elements of national power approach treats power resources as power itself.  One problem with this approach is that what might be power assets in one situation may be liabilities in another. Discussing power capabilities without knowing who is trying to get whom to do what (the scope and domain, in other words) is akin to discussing what a good hand is without knowing which card game is being played. Focusing on capabilities only draws attention to potential power.

The insistence on scope and domain, it has been suggested, makes prediction and generalization impossible. However, the specification of scope and domain can be done more or less broadly to suit the purpose of the analyst. They need not be unique and particularistic.

The Fungibility Problem

Fungibility refers to the ease with which power resources in one issue-area can be used in other issue-areas. Power resources vary highly in terms of fungibility as some resources are useful in many different issue-areas.

It has been suggested that fungibility increases as the amount increases. However, this suggestion does not tell us about the fungibility of any given resource. It only implies that powerful actors have more fungible resources than weak states.

The Problem of Intentions

Unintended effects of power are a reality in world politics. But they are not considered in many classical definitions of power. Relational power analysis, however, accounts for unintended effects. These effects have important consequences, beneficial or otherwise, for parties on both sides. Whether the effects are beneficial or detrimental should be answered by research.

The Measurement Problem

The desire to measure power often gets in the way of conceptual analysis. However, the lack of a standardised yardstick makes measurement and ranking exceedingly difficult forcing scholars to compare different dimensions of power without any agreed upon way to do it. A universally valid measure of power is an unachievable dream. If this dream is given up, much useful research can be done by concentrating on specific scopes and domains.

Power in International Relations Theory

Classic Balance of Power Theory

The balance of power theory fascinates theorists to this day. The concept, however, remains elusive and has been accused of having too many meanings. The only clarity concerns the depiction of power as a property rather than as a relation. This concept has been successful in so far as power is seen as a particular type of power resource used in a particular context.


Neorealism stresses the distribution of capabilities as a defining characteristic of the international system. These capabilities — population, territory, wealth, etc. — determine the overall rank of a state. But how these capabilities are to be defined and measured remains unanswered. The underlying standard for ranking states appears to be war-winning capability with the emphasis on force as the ultima ratio. The treatment of power and capability in neorealism seems to be highly confused and contradictory.

Current Issues

Military Power

The preoccupation with war has impoverished the field of international relations. Power rests on many different bases none of which may be said to be basic to the others. Non-military forms of power like economic statecraft has ironically limited the understanding of military statecraft itself.

Structural vs. Relational Power

Relational power has been criticised for neglecting structural power. However, if structural power is understood as unrelated to human agency, relational power represents a fundamentally different approach. But if it does entertain human agency in the form of unintended power or the control of structures, relational power can accommodate it by excluding intentionality (see The Problem of Intentions above) from the analysis or by specifying scope and domain.

Constructivism vs. Rationalism

Relational power approach has included both material and non-material bases of power. Wendt’s constructivism recognises, as a categorising criterion for international relations theories, brute material forces as well as ideas and cultural contexts as forms of power. Power analysis thus appears to be a point of convergence, not a bone of contention.

Power Analysis and Policy Relevance

Practitioners of politics are more swayed by the idea of power as resources. This is mainly because policymakers have extremely short time horizons are worried about particular wars in particular contexts.

But the Vietnam crisis showed the limitations of the notion of power as resources approach. In such a situation, a relational power approach would have been more useful.

It is correct to depict the elements of power as holding the high cards in the international poker game, but it is incorrect to imply that there is only one kind of game in international politics. If the game is bridge, the person with the good poker hand may be in big trouble. Policy makers need to know the name of the fame in order to evaluate the strength of their hands.

Future Research Directions

Power Relations as Dependent Variables

Scholars need to devote more attention to power as a dependent variable and focus on the distribution of influence, different issue areas and different time periods. The pertinent questions to be asked include ‘Who has power with respect to which other actors, on which issues?’ ‘By what means is power exercised?’ And ‘What resources allow states to exercise their power?’

Forms of Power

SOFT POWER Soft power is the ability to get others to do what you want by affecting their preferences. This concept has been useful in so far as it drives attention towards non-traditional forms of power but is nothing new. Further research on power must be rooted in the literature on relational power.

POSITIVE SANCTIONS Most research in international relations focusses on negative sanctions, i.e. actual or threatened punishments. Positive sanctions, i.e. actual or promised rewards and hold enormous potential for further research.

COMPARATIVE INFLUENCE TECHNIQUES The instruments of statecraft —  economic, diplomatic, military and symbolic — tend to be studied differently. This is a hindrance to both theory and policy. Policy-makers have little use for research in one technique of statecraft.

MILITARY FORCE Despite its preponderance in the literature on international politics, three problems deserve further research. First is the question of whether military force is declining. The second concerns the fungibility of military force. And the third concerns the question of how to define and measure military success.

Institutions and Power

Power can be exercised in the formation and maintenance of institutions. through institutions, within and’ among institutions. Institutions may reflect power relations, constrain them, or provide the basis, for their existence. The extent to which international institutions exercise power rather than reflect it provides a rich research agenda.

Domestic Politics

Even classic elements of national power approaches include national morale, quality of government, public support and political stability among the determinants of a country’s power. Questions concerning the effects of domestic politics on national power deserve further study and research.

Strategic Interaction and Bargaining

Defining power in terms of A causing a change in B’s behaviour is compatible with strategic interaction, but it neither calls attention to strategic interaction nor requires taking it into account. One of the most important research needs is linking the relational power literature with research on international strategic interaction.

Distribution of Power

How power should be distributed needs to be studied using the relational power approach. Rather than striving to produce a global ranking of the powers of countries or trying to identify a single overall international power structure, scholars should focus on power distributions within specified issue-areas and strive to identify multiple structures of power in different issue-areas.


—— A rehash of what has been stated —–

Power in International Politics by Michael Barnett and Raymond Duvall — A Summary

Michael Barnett and Raymond Duvall, “Power in International Politics,” International Organization 59, no. 1 (2005): 39–75.


Discussions about power in International Relations have been dominated by actor-oriented realist thinking — one actor using material resources to control other actors. This has created a ‘theoretical tunnel vision’ leading to the neglect of other forms and effects of power.

One reason for the pre-eminence of the realist conception is the aversion of rival theories to power considerations. Liberals, neoliberals and constructivists alike have attempted to demonstrate theoretical salience by claiming causal immunity from power variables for their explanations of empirical outcomes.

Neoliberals have argued how states with convergent interests create international institutions and arrangements that effectively tame (state) power, highlighting processes of social choice and leaving the impression that institutions are the antidote to power. Scholars of liberal international relations theory typically stress that many important international outcomes cannot be adequately explained with reference to power, but instead are better understood by the salutary presence of democracy, particular configurations of domestic interests, liberal values, economic interdependence, or international institutions. Mainstream constructivists, too, have pitted themselves against explanations in terms of power as they have attempted to demonstrate the causal significance of normative structures and processes of learning and persuasion.

These rival theoretical approaches could have drawn unique insights about the forms and effects of power from their distinct theoretical traditions. But that hasn’t happened. As such, the ability of IR scholars to make sense of global outcomes produced by power relations has been severely constrained.

Conceptualising Power

Power is the production, in and through social relations, of effects on actors that shape their capacity to control their fate. The conceptualisation of power that emerges from this definition — the consequential term being “social relations” — has two dimensions: the kinds of social relations that affect actors’ capacities and the specificity of those social relations. Firstly, social relations could work through interaction or constitution. Secondly, the effects of social relations of “interaction” or “constitution” could be specific or diffuse.

How Power is Expressed: Interaction or Constitution

Power could work through interactive relations. The behaviour of an actor (his actions, interactions, etc.) affects the ability of others to control the circumstances of their existence. This is a “power over” concept as the exercise of control is over others and as such it tends to see its effects in terms of the behaviour of the object of power.

Power could also work through constitutive relations. The constitution of an actor (his capacities, interests, etc.) affects his ability to shape the circumstances of his existence. This is a “power to” concept as it defines the actor’s ability to perform an action and as such its effects are generally seen in terms of the identity of the subject of power.

However, these two concepts are not exclusive. Examining power through social interaction can reveal effects on social identities, and examining power through constitutive relations can reveal effects on actions.

If power works through the actions of specific actors in shaping the ways and the extent to which other actors exercise control over their fate, it can have a variety of effects, ranging from directly affecting the behaviour of others to setting the terms of their very self-understandings; behavioural power, then, can have effects on actors' subjectivities and self-understandings.

Similarly, if power is in social relations of constitution, it works in fixing what actors are as social beings, which, in turn, defines the meaningful practices in which they are disposed to engage as subjects; constitutive power, then, has effects on behavioural tendencies.

The Specificity of Social Relations of Power: Specific or Diffuse

The social relations through which power works could be specific. This entails immediate and tangible causal and constitutive connections between the subject and object of power and usually depends upon them (subject and object) being in social proximity.

The social relations through which power works could also be diffuse. This entails detached and mediated causal and constitutive connections between the subject and object of power which generally operate at a physical, temporal and social distance.

Taxonomy of Power

These two dimensions — the kinds of social relations that affect actors’ capacities and the specificity of those social relations — generate a fourfold taxonomy of power.

Taxonomy of Power

Compulsory power exists in the direct control of one actor over the conditions of existence and/or the actions of another. Institutional power exists in actors' indirect control over the conditions of action of socially distant others. Structural power operates as the constitutive relations of a direct and specific-hence, mutually constituting-kind. Productive power works through diffuse constitutive relations to produce the situated social capacities of actors.

Compulsory Power: Direct Control Over Another

This conception focuses on the relations that allow an actor to directly shape the circumstances or actions of others. Most famous definitions (Max Weber, Robert Dahl, Peter Blau) of power fall under this concept. Compulsory power, in contrast to Dahl’s famous formulation, counts even when an actor controls another unintentionally.

Dahl's concept has three defining features. One, there is intentionality on the part of Actor A. What counts is that A wants B to alter its actions in a particular direction. Two, there must be a conflict of desires, to the extent that B now feels compelled to alter its behaviour. Three, A is successful because it has material and ideational resources at its disposal that lead B to alter its actions.

Compulsory power has significantly informed discussions about power in international politics. It steers attention towards the deployment of material resources to control others. Great powers often use (or threaten to use) resources to influence others. MNCs use capital resources to shape economic policies at national and global levels. Non-state actors resort to unconventional strategies to achieve their aims.

Compulsory power could also utilise symbolic and normative resources too. NGOs employ policies of shaming to alter state policies. Non-permanent members of the UNSC use legal norms to constrain the permanent members. International organisations use their expert, moral, delegated, and rational-legal authority to discipline both state and non-state actors.

Institutional Power: Actors’ Control Over Socially Distant Others

This conception focuses on the relations that allow an actor to indirectly shape the circumstances or actions of others. The conceptual focus is on the institutions that mediate between actors.

Compulsory and institutional power differ in the following ways.

    1. Whereas compulsory power typically rests on the resources that are deployed by A to exercise power directly over B, A cannot necessarily be said to "possess" the institution that constrains and shapes B.
    1. Institutional power highlights that A and B are socially removed from — only indirectly related to — one another. This distance can be spatial or temporal.
  1. Analyses of institutional power necessarily consider the decisions that were not made because of institutional arrangements that limit some opportunities and bias directions, particularly of collective action

Institutions enable some actors to shape the behaviour or circumstances of socially distant others. Dominant actors set the agenda of most global institutions and that agenda might work to the development or detriment of other actors. Market forces can create dependent relationships that limit the choices of weaker nations. Systems of exchange can also be a media of power.

The behavioural constraints and governing biases of institutions often create institutional rules that generate unequal leverage in determining collective outcomes. As such, weak actors often lose out on the collective rewards that are created by institutions.

Structural Power: Direct and Mutual Constitution of the Capacities of Actors

Structural power concerns the constitution, through social structures, of social subjects with capacities and interests. These structures are co-constitutive internal relations of structural positions which define what kinds of social beings actors are. (This must be contrasted with the insititutional notion of structures [see the second form in this taxonomy of power] as synonymous with pre-constituted institutions with sets of rules, procedures and norms that constrain behaviour.)

Structural power shapes the fates and conditions of existence of actors in two critical ways. Firstly, structural positions allocate differential capacities and advantages to different positions. Secondly, the social shapes the self-understanding and subjective interests of the actors.

In other words, structural power can work to constrain some actors from recognizing their own domination. To the degree that it does, actors' self-understandings and dispositions for action serve to reproduce, rather than to resist, the differential capacities and privileges of structure.

Various IR scholars forward arguments that have strong shades of structural power. Marxists argue that the structure of global capitalism substantially determines not only the capacities and resources of actors but also shapes the interpretive system through which actors understand their interests. World-systems theorists stress the logical generation of identities and interests that serve to perpetuate the domination of weaker actors.

Constructivists argue that the institutionalization of a world authority structure that is organized around rational-legal values increasingly privileges the voices of international NGOs.

Productive Power: Production of Subjects Through Diffuse Social Relations

Productive power concerns the constitution, through systems of knowledge and discursive practices, of social subjects with various social capacities and interests. The move is away from structures to systems of signification and meaning.

Productive power concerns the social discourses through which meaning is produced, fixed, lived, experienced, and transformed. These discourses produce social identities and capacities for all subjects.

Because structural power concerns the co-constitution of subjects, it typically envisions hierarchical and binary relations of domination that work to the advantage of those structurally empowered, to the disadvantage of the socially weak. In contrast, productive power concerns the boundaries of all social identity, and the capacity and inclination for action for the socially advantaged and disadvantaged alike, as well as the myriad social subjects that are not constituted in binary hierarchical relationships.

Questions that concern the kinds of subjects that are produced point towards productive power. Classificatory categories like ‘civilized’, ‘Western’, ‘rogue’ and ‘democratic’ create differences in social capacities because of the meanings associated with them. The gendered categories of ‘civilian’ and ‘combatant’ in international humanitarian law have real consequences for those on the ground, protecting some while putting others at the risk of death.

Our taxonomy of power offers several advantages for scholars of international relations theory.

  1. First, because it is founded on an explicit and logically systematic decomposition of the general concept of power, it is able to detach discussions of power from the limitations of realism and to encourage scholars to see power's multiple forms.
  2. Second, our approach provides a framework for integration. Taxonomies not only highlight distinct types but also point to connections between them.
  3. Third, our approach represents a decisive advantage over recent contributions to the debate about power in international relations because it incorporates both social relations of interaction and constitution, that is, both "power over" and "power to".
  4. Last, but hardly least, our taxonomy does not map precisely onto different theories of international relations. Scholars can and should draw from various conceptualizations of power that are associated with other theoretical schools.

Governance and Empire

Global Governance

Global governance is typically tied to institutionalized cooperation, coordination of convergent interests and the production of collective goods which has traditionally made analysing how power operates problematic. The proposed taxonomy sheds some light on the ways through which power operates.

Institutional power provides a conceptual starting point. First, global institutions have long considered and determined which issues are worth considering and which are not. Such decisions enable some actors to exercise control over others. Second, the institutional rules that establish a common focal point also generate unequal leverage or influence in determining collective outcomes which advantage certain actors at the expense of others. And the third is the ability of great powers to establish international institutions to further or preserve their interests and positions of advantage.

But institutional power, alone, does not tell the whole story. Great powers often exhibit compulsory power by determining the content and direction of global governance by using their decisive material advantages to determine what areas are to be governed. This extends to international organisations too. Even materially challenged actors are able to exercise compulsory power through unconventional, rhetorical and symbolic tactics.

Analysis of global governance needs to consider the constitutive aspects of global social life. Historical materialists point towards the liberal and capitalist character of global institutions and see structural power at work. The working of global governance reflects the underlying class structure. This class structure is perpetuated by the ideologies which foster a worldview that the current social order is desirable.

The concept of productive power as applied to global governance highlights how the discourses of international relations produce actors with associated social powers, self-understandings, and performative practices. The practices of guiding and steering collective outcomes in global social life derive from the social identities of the actors so engaged. The human rights regime, for example, is an expression of a discursively constituted world.

Although these different concepts of power illuminate different ways in which power operates in global governance, there is an important difference between the first two and the last two that affects how we think about governance: the first two concern who governs in global governance, whereas the latter two concern not who governs, but instead how the governing capacities of actors are produced, how those capacities shape governance processes and outcomes, and how bodies of knowledge create subjects that are to be, at least in part, self-regulating and disciplined.

American Empire

The American empire pivots around compulsory power. The ability — and post 9/11, willingness — of the US to use its overwhelming resources to directly shape the actions of others has been made abundantly clear. In fact, the willingness to unilaterally take action has been argued to signal the new status of the US as an empire.

However, the longevity of American hegemony after World War II is attributable to the construction of multilateral institutions — an expression of institutional power — with democratised and autonomous decision-making processes which nonetheless reflect American interests. These multilateral institutions mobilise bias to serve US purposes. The United States exercises power indirectly through institutions.

The role of structural power in US hegemony entails an exploration of the US as an imperial centre structurally constituted by relations of material production. Its capitalist clout creates a particular set of social positions and practices. The deterritorialised nature of capitalism extends these practices to a global rule which is perpetrated through tactics of coercion or through attempts at generating consent regarding the order of things.

In terms of productive power, the development of new discourses like human rights, equality and democracy along with participatory decision-making processes have played an important role. These transformative discursive and material processes have created the American empire which extends a diffuse network of hierarchy designed to privilege and pacify the multitudes. The US, being seen as a responsible and benevolent actor on the global stage, is the ultimate embodiment of productive power.


International relations scholars have erred by fixating on one conception of power. The wise thing would be to consider and utilise the various conceptual forms of power here presented to capture the different and interrelated ways in which actors are enabled and constrained by their circumstances.