Session 5: Power
The What: What is this session on?
We have spent the first three sessions trying to get to grips with meta-theories (theories whose main
subject-matter is other theories, and therefore theories that will give you tools to analyze some
concepts that are core to political science or the study of politics, such as the power, the state, civil
society, democracy, et al.). Now we will finally start work on the long line of concepts that
constitute political science, as well as the critique of these concepts.
Power is the first one of these. And probably the most important. As Colin Hay says, “Power
is probably the most universal and fundamental concept of political analysis.” At the same time, he
says, it “continues to be, the subject of extended and heated debate”.
In this session we will therefore attempt to define power. You will see how there are both
analytical and normative/critical definitions of power. While analytical definitions of power base
their definitions on power that is observable, normative and critical definitions speak of power that
is not observable. You will also find that the different definitions of power have different ontologies
and epistemologies. And that your politics is many times defined by the type of power that you
The Why: Why are we focusing on this (importance)?
When you think politics, what words come to mind? I'm guessing you are thinking “government”,
“state”, “democracy”, “Zardari”, “corruption”, “family politics”, etc. If you think about it, power
plays a role in every single one of the words you think about. Different groups are typically
competing to get power over the government or the state. Zardari is a powerful politician.
Corruption is done by the powerful, and typically affects the less powerful. In your family, some
members are trying to exercise power over others. There is no getting around power in politics, and
definitely not in the study of politics. Since it is such a key part of politics, it is also the first concept
that we will try to grasp.
Readings: What are the key things to focus on in the readings?
Hay, Colin 1997:
Divided by a Common Language? Political Theory and the Concept of Power
Politics 17(1) pp. 45-52 (7 pages) & Lukes, Steven Power 2005:
Power – A Radical View
York: Houndmills, pp. 14-29 (16 pages).
For this session, you will be reading one of the most seminal works in mainstream political science