Alternative social systems and individual wellbeing

Communism ... or Capitalism? A joke from Poland in the 1970s: "In capitalism it is a question of man's exploitation by man. In communism it is the reverse." A modern social system is an environment where millions of people find opportunities, develop their talents, express their beliefs, and earn their livings within the context of …

Personalized power at the local level

How does government work? We often understand this question as one involving the institutions and actors within the Federal government. But there is a different zone of government and politics that is also very important in public life in the United States, the practical politics and exercise of power at the state and local levels. …

The ontology of power

There have been quite a few posts on the concept of power over the years in this blog (link). This continues to be an intriguing subject for me. Fundamentally the question of the moment is this: how does "power" fit into a social ontology of the kinds of things that exist in the social world? …

Power within organizations

Sociologists have been thinking about organizations in a careful, empirical way for decades. Here is a volume edited by Mayer Zald that results from a 1969 conference at Vanderbilt on the topic of "Power in Organizations" (Power in Organizations).  The cross-section of sociologists represented here provides a good snapshot of the ways that organizations were …

Quiet politics

image: Conspiracy, Edward Biberman (cover illustration, Quiet Politics) Pepper Culpepper's Quiet Politics and Business Power: Corporate Control in Europe and Japan sheds some very interesting light on one key question in contemporary western democracies: how do corporations and business organizations so often succeed in creating a legislative and regulatory environment that largely serves their interests?  And, for that matter, …

Inequalities and the ascendant right

The playing field seems to keep tilting further against ordinary people in this country -- poor people, hourly workers, low-paid service workers, middle-class people with family incomes in the $60-80K range, uninsured people, ....  75% of American households have household incomes below $80,000; the national median was $44,389 in 2005.  Meanwhile the top one percent …

Why peasant activism?

  I have long been interested in peasant struggles as an historical phenomenon -- for example, the causes and outcomes of the peasant rebellions in China in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Understanding Peasant China: Case Studies in the Philosophy of Social Science).  But it is also true that peasant movements are still visible in …

Connecting the dots

There isn't very much transparency about the deep structure of almost any complex modern society. For most people their primary impressions of the society's functioning comes from the mass media and their own personal experiences.  We each see the limited bits to which we are fairly directly exposed through our ordinary lives -- the newsroom …

Lukes on power

Steven Lukes's Power: A Radical View was a very important contribution when it appeared in 1974. Lukes emphasized several important points that became landmarks in subsequent discussions of the social reality of power: that power is a multi-dimensional social factor, that power and democracy are paradoxically related, and that there are very important non-coercive sources of …

Business interests and democracy

The central ideal of democracy is the notion that citizens can express their political and policy preferences through political institutions, and that the policies selected will reflect those preferences. We also expect that elected officials will act ethically in support of the best interests of the public. This is their public trust. The anti-democratic possibility …

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