Dimensions and Distribution of Power

  • Fabio de NardisEmail author


The concept of “power” is central to political sociology. In this chapter, we first try to describe it by reducing its implicit semantic ambiguity. We will distinguish it from similar concepts such as “influence”, “domination”, “dominance”, and then focus on the concept of “authority” that presupposes a form of power recognised and accepted not only by those who exercise it, but also by those who are subject to it. Political power is only one particular social manifestation of power, which concerns the possession of the means necessary for the exercise of physical violence. It is therefore necessary to distinguish the forms of power from the resources necessary to exercise it. This allows us to separate political power from other fundamental manifestations of social power, such as economic and symbolic (or ideological) power. Many scholars have developed the belief that, in any historical society, power is concentrated in the hands of narrow elite that commands an atomised mass, almost naturally brought to subalternity with respect to the dominant group. The scholars whose work is attributable to elite theory are therefore convinced that the trend of modern societies follows a pyramidal logic. The dominant group may be called “political class”, or “ruling class”, or “power elite”, but it does not change the reality of a socio-political context that, even in democracy, is seen as inevitably destined to assume the oligarchical traits of a society where the few command the many. The idea of the homogeneity and compactness of elites is questioned by pluralistic theorists who believe that power groups are multiple, heterogeneous and in competition with each other. It is the same competition for power that may represent the meeting place between elitism and democracy.


Political power Economic power Ideological power Elitism Pluralism 


  1. Althusser, L. (1970). Idéologie et appareils idéologiques d’Etat. La Pensée, 151, 3–38.Google Scholar
  2. Aron, R. (1950). Social Structure and the Ruling Class. British Journal of Sociology, I, 131–143.Google Scholar
  3. Aron, R. (1954). Note sur la stratification du pouvoir. Revue française de science politique, IV, 469–483.Google Scholar
  4. Aron, R. (1955). L’Opium des intellectuels. Paris: Calmann-Lévy.Google Scholar
  5. Aron, R. (1960). Classe sociale, classe politique, classe dirigeante. Archives européennes de sociologie, I, 260–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Aron, R. (1962). Paix et Guerre entre les Nations. Paris: Calmann-Lévy.Google Scholar
  7. Aron, R. (1964). Macht, Power, Puissance: prose démocratique ou poésie democratique? Archives européennes de sociologie, V, 27–51.Google Scholar
  8. Aron, R. (1965). Catégories dirigeante ou classe dirigeante? Revue française de science politique, XV, 7–21.Google Scholar
  9. Bachrach, P., & Baratz, M. S. (1962). Two Faces of Power. American Political Science Review, 56, 947–952.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bachrach, P., & Baratz, M. S. (1963). Decisions and Non-Decision; An Analytical Framework. American Political Science Review, 57, 632–642.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bentley, A. (1908). The Process of Government: A Study of Social Pressures. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  12. Berger, P. L. (1963). Invitation to Sociology: A Humanistic Perspective. New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  13. Borch, C. (2005). Systemic Power Luhmann, Foucault, and Analytics of Power. Acta Sociologica, 48(2), 155–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Bourdieu, P. (1979). La distinction: critique sociale du jugement. Paris: Minuit.Google Scholar
  15. Brusten, M., Feest, J., & Lautmann, R. (1975). Die Polizei: eine Institution ӧffentlicher Gewalt: Analysen, Kritik, empirischen daten. Neuwied: Luchterhand.Google Scholar
  16. Burnham, J. (1941). The Managerial Revolution: What is Happening in the World. New York: John Day Company.Google Scholar
  17. Burnham, J. (1943). The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom. New York: John Day.Google Scholar
  18. Catlin, G. E. G. (1930). A Study of the Principles of Politics. London: Allen and Unwin.Google Scholar
  19. Catlin, G. E. G. (1962). Systematic Politics: Elementa Politica et Sociologica. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dahl, R. (1958). A Critique of the Ruling Elite Model. American Political Science Review, 52, 463–469.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dahl, R. (1961). Who Governs? Democracy and Power in American City. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Dahl, R. (1971). Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Duverger, M. (1967). Sociologie de la politique. Eléments de Science Politique. Paris: Presses Universitaires.Google Scholar
  24. Emerson, R. M. (1962). Power Dependence Relations. American Sociological Review, 27, 31–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Etzioni-Halevy, E. (1989). Elite Power, Manipulation and Corruption: a Demo-Elite Perspective. Government and Opposition, XXIV, 215–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Etzioni-Halevy, E. (1993). The Elite Connection. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  27. Foucault, M. (1975). Surveiller et punir: naissance de la prison. Paris: Gallimard.Google Scholar
  28. Foucault, M. (1976). Historie de la sexualité, 1: La volonté de savoir. Paris: Gallimard.Google Scholar
  29. Friedrich, C. J. (1963). Man and His Government. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  30. Giddens, A. (1968). Power in Recent Writings of Talcott Parsons. Sociology, 2, 257–272.Google Scholar
  31. Gramsci, A. (1971 [1929–1935]). Selections from Prison Notebooks. New York: International Publishers.Google Scholar
  32. Guzzini, S. (2004). Constructivism and International Relations: An Analysis of Luhmann’s Conceptualization of Power. In M. Albert & L. Hilkermeier (Eds.), Observing International Relations: Niklas Luhmann and World Politics (pp. 208–222). London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  33. Habermas, J. (1973). Legitimationsprobleme in Spätkapitalismus. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  34. Hintze, O. (1972). Staat und Verfassung. Gӧttinger: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.Google Scholar
  35. Hobbes, T. (1968 [1651]). Leviathan. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  36. Hunter, F. (1953). Community Power Structure. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.Google Scholar
  37. Jessop, B. (2001). Development in Marxist Theory. In K. Nash & A. Scott (Eds.), The Blackwell Companion to Political Sociology (pp. 8–16). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  38. Lasswell, H. D. (1936). Politics: Who Gets What, When, How. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  39. Lasswell, H. D., & Kaplan, A. (1950). Power and Society: A Framework for Political Inquiry. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Latham, E. (1952). The Group Basis of Politics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Lenin, V. I. (1943 [1917]). State and Revolution. New York: International Publishers.Google Scholar
  42. Lenin, V. I. (1969 [1902]). What Is to Be Done? New York: International Publishers.Google Scholar
  43. Locke, J. (1988 [1960–1962]). Two Treatise of Government. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Luhmann, N. (1969). Klassische Theorie der Macht. Zeitschrift fur Politikit, 16, 149–170.Google Scholar
  45. Luhmann, N. (1970). Soziologische Aufklärung (Vol. I). Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Luhmann, N. (1975). Macht. Stuttgart: Ferdinand Enke.Google Scholar
  47. Luhmann, N. (1984). Soziale Sisteme: Grundriss einer allgemeine Theorie. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  48. Luhmann, N., & De Giorgi, R. (1994). Teoria della società. Milano: Franco Angeli.Google Scholar
  49. Lynd, R., & Lynd, H. M. (1929). Middletown. New York: Harcourt Brace & World.Google Scholar
  50. Lynd, R., & Lynd, H. M. (1937). Middletown in Transition. New York: Harcourt Brace & World.Google Scholar
  51. Mann, M. (1986). Source of Social Power (Vol. I). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Marx, K. (1975 [1844]). Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. In K. Marx & F. Engels, Collected Works (Vol. 3, pp. 229–348). New York: International Publishers.Google Scholar
  53. Marx, K. (1987 [1859]). A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. In K. Marx & F. Engels (Eds.), Collected Works (Vol. 29, pp. 257–420). New York: International Publishers.Google Scholar
  54. Marx, K., & Engels, F. (1975 [1845–1846]). The German Ideology. In K. Marx & F. Engels (Eds.), Collected Works (Vol. 5, pp. 15–645). New York: International Publishers.Google Scholar
  55. Merriam, C. E. (1934). Political Power: Its Composition and Incidence. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  56. Michels, R. (1966 [1911]). Political Parties. London: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  57. Miliband, R. (1969). The State in Capitalist Society. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.Google Scholar
  58. Mills, C. W. (1956). The Power Elite. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  59. Mosca, G. (1939 [1896]). The Ruling Class. New York and London: The McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  60. Pareto, V. (1963 [1916]). The Mind and Society. A Treatise of General Sociology. Mineola and New York: Dover Publications.Google Scholar
  61. Parsons, T. (1937). The Structure of Social Action. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  62. Parsons, T. (1951). The Social System. Glencoe: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  63. Parsons, T. (1963). On the Concept of Political Power. In Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 107(3), pp. 232–262. Also in R. Bendix & S. M. Lipset (Eds.), Class, Status and Power. Glencoe: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  64. Perroux, F. (1971). The Domination Effect and Modern Economic Theory. In K. W. Rothschild (Ed.), Power in Economics (pp. 56–74). London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  65. Poggi, G. (2001). Forms of Power. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  66. Popitz, H. (2017). Phenomena of Power. New York: Columbia University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Poulantzas, N. (1968). Pouvoir politique et classes sociales. Paris: Maspero.Google Scholar
  68. Riesman, D., Glazer, D., & Denney, R. (1950). The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  69. Rosinski, H. (1965). Power and Human Destiny. London: Pall Mall.Google Scholar
  70. Rousseau, J. J. (2002 [1762]). The Social Contract and The First and Second Discourses. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  71. Runciman, W. G. (1988–1989). A Treatise on Social Theory: The Methodology of Social Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  72. Rush, M. (1992). Politics and Society: An Introduction to Political Sociology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  73. Russell, B. (1938). Power. London: Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  74. Schumpeter, J. A. (1942). Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. New York: Harper and Brothers.Google Scholar
  75. Sennett, R. (1980). Authority. New York: Knopf.Google Scholar
  76. Thompson, J. B. (1981). Critical Hermeneutics: A Study in the Thought of Paul Ricoeur and Jürgen Habermas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Thompson, J. B. (1995). The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of the Media. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  78. Truman, D. B. (1951). The Governmental Process: Political Interests and Public Opinion. New York: Knopf.Google Scholar
  79. Turner, T. S. (1968). Parsons’ Concept of ‘Generalized Media’ of Social Interaction and its Relevance for Social Anthropology. Sociological Inquiry, 38(Spring), 121–144.Google Scholar
  80. Weber, M. (1978 [1922]). Economy and Society (Vol. 2). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of History, Society, and Human StudiesUniversity of SalentoLecceItaly

Personalised recommendations