Frameworks of Power


Stewart R. Clegg

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    For Bill and Joyce who made it all possible; for Lynne, Jonathan and William with whom it was shared and who make everything worthwhile.


    I would like to acknowledge all who have aided me in writing this book. First, some universities, chief amongst which are the University of New England, which allowed me study leave to be able to work on this, among other projects, and the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, whose Department of Management invited me to spend some time with them while I was completing the book. The period which I spent there during the latter part of 1988 will long be remembered for not only the warmth and friendship of individuals but also the stimulation of the intellectual environment. In addition, towards the end of 1988 when I was making late revisions to the manuscript, I was fortunate to be able to use the excellent facilities provided by the Department of Social Policy and Sociology at the University of Leeds. The final revisions were undertaken in Hong Kong during the first few weeks of 1989, when I was a Visiting Professor in the University of Hong Kong, Department of Management Studies. The customary warmth and collegiality of the department, particularly in the form of Gordon Redding, with whom I was at the time collaborating on another project, were, as always, stimulating. Second, I would like to acknowledge some institutions. The ones I have in mind, like most enjoyable institutions, are really loose networks of people, the most immediate of which are the Australian and Pacific Researchers in Organization Studies (APROS) whose colloquia and seminars over the years have been a real example of collegial scholarship and exchange of ideas, even between antagonists. Thanks of more distant lineage should also be expressed to the European Group for Organization Studies (EGOS) under whose auspices much of the initial background for this book was acquired. Third, I would like to acknowledge my gratitude to some places and to some of the people who were there at the time that I passed through. Although they have not entered into the production of this volume in any direct way at all, without them it would never have been attempted. I refer to the Grammar School, Eiland, Yorkshire and the Universities of Bradford and Aston, Griffith University, Brisbane; and the International Institute of Management in Berlin. As so much knowledge is institutionally sustained and yet not acknowledged as such, I wish to take this opportunity to place my appreciation on record.

    The people whom I wish to thank are many, and I mention them in no particular order. Over the last decade I've probably spent more time working with Paul Boreham and Geoff Dow than anyone else. They have been an enduring source of discussion and issues with which to grapple. The other collaborators with whom I have worked chiefly during this period have been Winton Higgins and Wai-Fong Chua from whom I have also learned a great deal. John Western has been a good friend and colleague for a long time. Some of the issues canvassed in the book have arisen in the course of our collaboration both as editors and researchers. Another member of the small group of scholars with whom I have worked in Brisbane over the years is Mike Emmison. Some of our discussions and collaboration have entered this book.

    For more years than any of us would wish to recall, Zygmunt Bauman, David Hickson and David Silverman have been among my correspondents, sources of friendship, and occasional visitors from the UK. It would be hard not to have learned something from them over all the years and I hope that I have not failed in this respect. Similarly, I have profited greatly from the friendship and exchange of ideas with Peter Blunt, Barry Hindess, Bob Holton, Jane Marceau, Michael Pusey and Bryan Turner in recent years. I would like to thank Stuart Hall for the page numbers. In the Department of Sociology at the University of New England, Ellie Vasta and I spent many hours discussing issues connected with feminist and post-structuralist theory which have found an echo here. In addition, with respect to aspects of this particular project, Elim Papadakis, Peter Lucich, Alan Black and Uma Pandey have freely shared time and patience with me, while John Girdwood enthused me with his fascination for Foucault although he was never able to entice me on to the Mille Plateau with him. Jim Bell was always punctilious in not distracting me from this project and I appreciate that very much indeed. Trish Marshall and Ros Mortimer were extremely efficient in the initial word-processing of this manuscript which greatly aided my subsequent revision at the keyboard. I do not think one could have had a more congenial environment in which to work than that provided by the Department of Sociology at the University of New England.

    It is appropriate to acknowledge the prior publication of some of the ideas in this book in earlier papers. There is some use made in chapter seven of arguments which were first advanced in a paper co-authored with Mike Emmison and Paul Boreham. The paper was called ‘Against Antinomies: For a Post-Marxist Politics’ and was published by Thesis Eleven (18: 124–42, 1987/88). Some of chapter eight comprises material contained in a paper published in Organization Studies, volume 10, number 1, pages 101–19 as ‘Radical Revisions: Power, Discipline and Organization’. With these exceptions the remainder of the book makes its first appearance here.

    A number of colleagues have been kind enough to share their assessment of the manuscript with me in order that I might improve it as a result of their comments. In particular, Malcolm Lewis and Ralph Stablein, colleagues from the Department of Management at the University of Otago, read and discussed the manuscript with me as it evolved during the time that I spent there and I thank them sincerely for doing so. I gained a great deal from our discussions. Others who commented on the manuscript include David Hickson, David Silverman, Zygmunt Bauman, Winton Higgins, Barry Hindess, Lucien Karpik, Richard Hall, John Mayer, John Child, Ric Collignon, Tony Spybey, Gary Hamilton and Derek Layder. As with all of the good advice and support that kind people and institutions have offered over the years, I am sure that I probably did not heed nearly enough of it: indeed, I know that I did not, particularly as I tried to effect closure on the project of writing - something which the Macintosh SE makes difficult! Consequently, the usual clause applies: no one of those mentioned is in any way responsible for what I have written. That responsibility still lies with the notion of the author.


    This began as a book about a concept and its application, but it became a book about a set of family relationships between some closely related but nevertheless differentiated concepts. There is no such thing as a single all-embracing concept of power per se but there are at least three family groupings clustered around loci of dispositional, agency, and facilitative concepts of power. To bring these into a set of ordered relationships with each other, a concept of circuits of power has been proposed. The book is not exhaustive of debates around power, this most ‘contested’ of concepts, but it does chart the main contours of debate in the English-speaking world particularly as they have developed in the recent past. It then applies its own conception to some recent ‘sociology of the state’.

    At the heart of the present book stands another. Steven Lukes' (1974) book, Power: A Radical View, has been one of the most widely used social science books of the last decade. It addressed problems involved in the analysis of power as well as offering an elegant model for their solution. However, not even the best books can transcend the temporal nature of the debates in which they are involved. Lukes' book was very clearly rooted in some central problems generated for power analysis in the late 1960s and early 1970s. At the core of these questions were notions of ‘non-decision making’ and ‘non-issues’, an agenda ambiguously coupled with a concern with a core concept of ‘Western Marxism’, that of ‘hegemony’. While this agenda is still with us, it has of late been joined by other concerns which have developed with more recent debate. These debates, while not addressed in Lukes' text, certainly have some significance for the analysis of power. Amongst these have been debates centred on the claims of a realist epistemology of science as well as others drawing from post-structuralism and a Foucauldian conception of power. Consequently, certain problems confront one with reference to Lukes' text as a contemporary tool. While it remains a clear and reliable guide to certain central debates, unfortunately it has been increasingly bypassed by more recent developments which pose a challenge to its analysis of power. Lukes' ‘radical’ three-dimensional model of power was explicitly premised upon an ethically liberal concept of agency, and it implicitly invoked Humean notions of causality. The difficulties in reconciling such views with perspectives which undercut their assumptions will be evident. Recent developments increasingly have sought to achieve this ‘undercutting’. For instance, it will be seen that post-structuralism is not easily amenable to concerns that centre on a strongly articulated ‘agency’ perspective other than from a position of opposition. Equally difficult to relate coherently is the renewed debate which has occurred around the ashes of ‘structural Marxism’.

    The rationale for writing this book derived from the experience of teaching courses concerned with ‘power’ in which the best book available for the task was slowly becoming less serviceable. Despite its only providing half the story, Lukes (1974) remained the most appropriate and relevant tool for teaching. The elegance and economy of the book ensured that this was so. However, its use was limited to the extent that subsequent debates were not represented within it. One thinks, for instance, of Foucault's various writings on power. Texts such as Discipline and Punish (1977) require consideration, as Lukes (1986) implicitly recognized. An extract from Foucault's work was subsequently included as a chapter on ‘Disciplinary Power and Subjection’ in a book edited by Lukes (1986) on the topic of Power. In addition, there were major statements by writers including Giddens (1976; 1981), Wrong (1979), Callon et al. (1986) and Mann (1986) to consider. Indeed, some of the subsequent work took the form of a dialogue with Lukes (1974; 1977). A text was necessary which would not only cover the material central to Lukes' concerns but also incorporate more recent work. This book is intended as such a text.

    The book is very briefly previewed here. In chapter one the argument is elaborated at greater length. In the first instance, two significant and different foundations developed for the analysis of power at the outset of modernity: those of Hobbes and Machiavelli. For reasons of both the particular time and place at which these ideas were born, it was to be the trajectory from Hobbes which was to chart the contours for the mainstream conception of an agency and episodic notion of power. Machiavelli was not bypassed entirely, particularly not in some recent French sociology. In this book the recovery of the centrality of notions of organization to the ‘fixing’ of the circuits of power (where fixing is used to convey the idea of a representation being developed and realized in a fixed form, as in a photograph) returns Machiavelli's strategic concerns to the analysis of power.

    Chapter two contrasts Hobbes and Machiavelli. Chapters three, four, five and six develop the contours of what will be termed an agency and episodic conception of power. In addition, they indicate some lines of development which critics of the episodic and agency conception have opened up via alternative facilitative and dispositional conceptions. Chapters three and four concern the ‘community power debate’ and its celebrated protagonists, particularly Dahl and Bachrach and Baratz, while chapter five concentrates on Lukes' delineation of a radical view of power. Chapter six extends this to a consideration of the link between agency and structure in the analysis of power made by Giddens' structuration theory. Chapters five and six explore the central issues of the relation of power and interests, power and structure, power capacities and power outcomes, as well as the epistemological underpinnings of alternate empiricist, idealist and realist conceptions of power. Chapter seven introduces the contribution to the analysis of power made by what has come to be called post-structuralism, looking in particular at the work of Foucault. Chapter eight presents a formal model for the analysis of power, constructed in terms of power's circuits, while chapter nine demonstrates how it may be applied to an analysis of the primary power circuit of modernity, the modern, western form of the constitutional state.

    The book has been written in a particular way. Chapters one and two function as an overview and foundation for the argument which structures the book as a whole. Each of the subsequent chapters has a primary focus on the contributions of major figures to the sociology of power. Rather than simply use the different positions that each of these has contributed to the literature in order to criticize the others, I have tried to respect the integrity of each set of ideas as I have advanced them. Thus, chapter three focuses on the central contributions of Dahl, chapter four on those of Bachrach and Baratz, chapter five on those of Lukes, chapter six on Giddens, chapter seven on those of Foucault, while chapter eight develops a novel framework for the analysis of ‘circuits of power’, a framework which is used in chapter nine to illuminate some central issues in the sociology of power and the state. There may well be some unintended consequences of having adopted this structure for the book. On occasion it may well appear as if a somewhat uncritical acceptance of particular contributions is being made at certain stages of the argument. For instance, early in chapter three I am concerned to outline the positive contributions that Dahl made to the analysis of power; subsequently some critical reflections on the limits of those contributions are posed. In short, I have tried to take each contribution seriously rather than use it simply as a stalking-horse for attack from an as yet undisclosed position Obviously, I will have my predilections for analysis just as much as the next person, and I am sure that they will show, but at least in this way they may be respectfully displayed.

    Another way of thinking about the central substantive chapters is in terms of the temporal nature of the debates reviewed in the book. Each of these positions may be said to have been a dominant contribution at some time or other; that is, they were the normal reference point for debate. In the 1950s the reference points were elitist studies of power by writers like Hunter and Mills, and their critique, most notably by Dahl. In the next decade, the formal model of power developed by Dahl and its empirical application were at the centre of debate raised by writers such as Bachrach and Baratz, culminating in their empirical application of the critical perspective which they had developed. During the 1970s it was the further radicalization of Bachrach and Baratz's perspective which Lukes achieved that was at the centre of debate. These debates are still very much with us, having stretched well into the 1980s. In the later 1970s the distinctive contributions of Anthony Giddens and Michel Foucault achieved widespread dissemination and discussion throughout the social sciences.

    The debates around power have been truly inter-disciplinary. The roots of the concept are in political theory and political philosophy. Subsequently the concept becomes a mainstay of political science in the twentieth century, particularly in the post-war era. From there it is widely dispersed into political sociology. With Lukes' and Giddens' work, in particular, the concept moves out of the arena of political sociology to become perhaps the single most important concept for contemporary sociology. Indeed, the dispersion may be said to be even greater. Power has become one of the central concepts of the social and human sciences per se. As a result of the centrality of the concept to Michel Foucault's later work, it has barely been contained at this level of dispersion but has spun off into areas of literary, film and textual criticism, feminist analysis, social history, organization analysis, penology, sexology, and so on. Regrettably neither the present author nor this book is equipped to trace the dispersion across such a widespread intellectual terrain.

    Few books are selfcontained, this one perhaps less than most. For instance, some of the framework of ideas developed here were originally outlined in two earlier books (Clegg 1975; 1979). Certain continuities exist with these earlier works. In particular, readers who are familiar with the formal representation of power which was advanced in the two earlier books may detect a genealogical line in the representation of circuits of power in this text. However, the differences are many and significant, although they are not spelled out at length here. The obvious difference is a retreat from the more ‘radical structuralist’ formulations of the latter and from the more ‘radical humanist’ formulations of the earlier study, to use Burrell and Morgan's (1979) categories. I would hope that the present offering is somewhat more difficult to pigeon-hole than these earlier contributions but I doubt that it is! Many of the questions which the concluding chapter leaves implicit for the modern age have been addressed elsewhere, in terms that are not incompatible with those subsequently developed here, in work that I have done in concert with Paul Boreham and Geoff Dow (1986). On that occasion an analysis was constructed in which present and foreseeable linkages, in what I would now term the circuits of power linking politics and markets, were explored comparatively for the major nations in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Readers who are curious to see how the contemporary circuits of market and state power calibrate in various countries will find our book, Class, Politics and the Economy, of interest. Although the formal model of circuits of power was not developed in that book, with hindsight I think it could usefully have been applied to its analyses.

    I have in the past been involved in a number of debates relating to concepts of power and the sociologies of class and organizations. Not surprisingly, some of these concerns recur in this book. In this respect the book is situated midway between a number of distinct substantive topics in sociology and the social sciences more generally. Of necessity, however, some divisions of labour have a greater affinity than others, and so it will not be hard to determine an abiding interest in the sociology of organizations, in Marxist analyses, and in the sociological history of western modernity and certain epistemological questions contingent upon its understanding.

    Finally, regarding the audience for this book, I would like to think that people who have in the past found Lukes' book useful for teaching and research may in future find this a modest supplement to that distinguished contribution. Thus, I trust that it will find favour not only with course instructors but also with the undergraduate and postgraduate students who may use Lukes' book. I have tried to write as accessible a text as the material would allow. I hope that I have succeeded in making the ideas that I find fascinating sufficiently clear and as stimulating as they seemed to me when I first met them. The measure of success in this regard would be to encourage others to sample the authors reviewed at first hand. Every one of the major texts which is discussed deserves that attention. Not only are they ail veritable benchmarks of contemporary social science in their understanding of power; they are also major circuits of power in the academic market-place. Indeed, that the two are synonymous is the argument of this book.

  • Post-Modern Postscript

    A final few words are in order in view of the material chosen to make the argument in this book. Strategic reasons were involved. These concerned the past centrality of the theory of the state to the theory of power, as well as the recent centrality of approaches to power which were not closely related to the state at all. Drawing on these may have made the applicability of some newer approaches to some traditionally central questions clearer than they might otherwise have been. In the past, power centred on stabilizing and fixing obligatory passage points for the stable organization of production and state management. In a word it centred on ‘domination’, the fixing of which was ‘legitimation’. One consequence of choosing to concentrate the discussion on the historical case of the modern state is perhaps to make it seem as if power is treated as a massively reified thing, despite the frequent disclaimers and protestations to the contrary. To re-iterate what has been implicit throughout the latter part of the book: this has been posited as a post-modern analysis of the modern condition, post-modern because of its relentless stress on the relational quality of power, the representation of power and the fixing of power as its encompassing frame. However, it has equally been applied to an extremely modernist set of issues: the emergence of those privileged pathways which have become the modern state, organization and market.

    Today, for much of the post-modern world, there are indications that of these central institutions it is the market which has emerged the dominant term of the trinity, the architectonic around which both the state and organization have increasingly come to be articulated. That it need not rationally be so to such an extent as has become fashionable is not an issue which we can address here: for one thing, it has been considered at length elsewhere (Clegg et al. 1986); moreover, in much of this world it is no longer clear that rationality, as it might once have been considered, is an appropriate category with which to study political action. If it were, then certain nostrums about the relations of politics and markets, those which stress the rationality and morality of small public sectors as pathways to full employment, low inflation and sustained economic growth, would be far less readily peddled and consumed.

    Bauman (1988a: 807) argues very clearly that the shift to post-modern society is premised on the replacement of older modernist and intellectual notions of rationality with the reality of the marketplace as the privileged pathway through which all traffic increasingly must pass. This obligation is such that ‘consumer freedom’, premised on and geared to the market, has become ‘the cognitive and moral focus of life, integrative bond of the society, and the focus of systemic management’. If this was correct as a reading of tendencies present at the time and place that these words were coined (in the United Kingdom during the consumer boom of 1988), then it would have major implications for the project of power. While, in the era of modernist power, the central focus and problems concerned stabilizing the obligatory passage points of state and organization generally on issues of disciplined work, production and surplus, in both the state and economy, in post-modernity the pathways would seemingly have become far more plural and diverse. In part, surely, this is because of the successful reification of power which modernism has accomplished in the state and in organization control. Within this encompassing frame of stable national and organizational entities, new post-modern freedoms from power can seemingly develop.

    ‘Seemingly’ should be taken advisedly in the previous paragraph. If consumer freedom has taken over ‘the crucial role of the link which fastens together the lifeworlds of the individual agents and purposeful rationality of the system’ (Bauman 1988a: 808) with an attendant shift from production to distribution, from control to consumption, this newly found freedom has been premised, as Bauman (1988a; 1988b) rightly argues, on the power of seduction rather than repression. Where domination no longer requires legitimation, power can shift increasingly out of circuits of repression and prohibition into more productive and positive forms. Consequently, the focus of post-modern power shifts from the episodic agency circuit, the repressive power par excellence, to the dispositional and facilitative circuits. Increasingly, in the post-modern era, power comes to be oriented not to fixing the passage points of a small number of stable and tightly coupled pathways but, on the contrary, to focusing on proliferating and endlessly reproducing privileged pathways, only to devalue them deliberately with the next conceit. ‘Shelf-life’ is remorselessly shortened not by shoddy work but by the pleasures of consumption. In consumer society, far from the consumer being a sovereign subject, subjectivity can never be achieved through the subjection and appropriation of objects because the possibilities of the object world are endlessly proliferating, spinning off, opening new paths to sovereign power on a terrain which unceasingly shifts. In such a world, ‘seduction’ becomes ‘the paramount tool of integration (of the reproduction of domination) in a consumer society’. As Bauman (1988b: 221–2) goes on to say, seduction ‘is made possible once the market succeeds in making the consumers dependent on itself’, a dependency ‘achieved through the destruction of such skills (technical, social, psychological, existential) which do not entail the use of marketable commodities; the more complete the destruction, the more necessary become new skills which point organically to market-supplied implements’. At its most sublime (and surreal), men and women become slaves to the rhythm of the market, held in its bondage.

    In the post-modern world, power consists less in the control of the relational field of force in each circuit and more in the way in which the obligatory passage point of the market has become a ‘black hole’, sucking in ever more agency and spewing out an ever more diffuse power as the pursuit of things becomes an all encompassing passion. When things are needed so much for their own sake, for what they can only ever fleetingly signify, power can be relaxed in terms of its repressions, except at the margins of post-modern life, for those for whom membership in the new order has either not been proffered or rejected where it was offered. The disposition to consume and the enjoinment to produce pleasure through the domination and innovation of things are facilitative not of any generalized systemic resistance so much as a satiation which knows only how to feed on itself, which knows only too well, one might say. Such a system is marked by the absence of widespread interventions on behalf of episodic power, other than on the peripheries of civil (i.e. market) society. There it serves to repress ‘the considerable margin of society which cannot be absorbed by market dependency … people whose business of life does not transcend the horizon of survival’ (Bauman 1988b: 222). Consequently, the decline in the exercise of power, in the familiar mode of A getting B to do something that B would not otherwise have done, does not signal the end of power or its consignment merely to a memory chest. On the contrary, it signals a newer and even greater economy of power than its one-dimensional form. In the multi-dimensional pleasure dome of postmodern society, as the traditional spectacle of power retreats to the margins, the centre stage is increasingly occupied by the dispositional and the productive in a plethora of new capacities, empowerments and pathways which are immune to any pretensions to ‘painterly architectonics’ that sovereign power might once have had. The canvas is not fixed; the palette not given; the style not dictated. Representations can be fixed anywhere, anyhow, anyway. This is the post-modern democratic freedom of the market. The conceptual execution of sovereign power heralded only superficially a new realm of freedom; the easing of surveillance seems sure to offer even less freedom if these old concepts are reborn in the unity of the self-regarding and ceaselessly restless consumer sovereign reflexively monitoring the appearance of things through one's self and one's self through things. In such a world, as Bauman (1988b) suggests, legitimations based on the fixity of hegemonic pathways cease to matter. As a corollary, one may note that debates over the concept of power would acquire more of a historical than present-day interest.

    Perhaps this ‘forgetting’ of power may yet be the ‘fate of our times’?


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