Cultural hegemony

In the Marxist tradition, the Italian writer Antonio Gramsci elaborated the role of ideology in creating a cultural hegemony, which becomes a means of bolstering the power of capitalism and of the nation-state. Drawing on Niccolò Machiavelli in The Prince, and trying to understand why there had been no Communist revolution in Western Europe, while it was claimed there had been one in Russia, Gramsci conceptualised this hegemony as a centaur, consisting of two halves. The back end, the beast, represented the more classic, material image of power, power through coercion, through brute force, be it physical or economic. But the capitalist hegemony, he argued, depended even more strongly on the front end, the human face, which projected power through 'consent'. In Russia, this power was lacking, allowing for a revolution. However, in Western Europe, specifically in Italy, capitalism had succeeded in exercising consensual power, convincing the working classes that their interests were the same as those of capitalists. In this way revolution had been avoided.

While Gramsci stresses the significance of ideology in power structures, Marxist-feminist writers such as Michele Barrett stress the role of ideologies in extolling the virtues of family life. The classic argument to illustrate this point of view is the use of women as a 'reserve army of labour'. In wartime it is accepted that women perform masculine tasks, while after the war the roles are easily reversed. Therefore, according to Barrett, the destruction of capitalist economic relations is necessary but not sufficient for the liberation of women.


Tarnow[11] considers what power hijackers have over air plane passengers and draws similarities with power in the military. He shows that power over an individual can be amplified by the presence of a group. If the group conforms to the leader's commands, the leader's power over an individual is greatly enhanced while if the group does not conform the leader's power over an individual is nil.


For Foucault real power will always rely on the ignorance of its agents; with the discovery and emergence of Biopower, and Biopolitics a biological and political technology of its population, highlights this fact. No single human, group nor single actor runs the dispositif (machine or apparatus) but power is dispersed through the apparatus as efficiently and silently as possible, ensuring its agents do whatever is necessary. It is because of this action that power is unlikely to be detected, so remains elusive to 'rational' investigation. Foucault quotes a text reputedly written by political economist Jean Baptiste Antoine Auget de Montyon, entitled Recherches et considérations sur la population de la France (1778), but however, turns out to be written by his secretary Jean-Baptise Moheau (1745–1794) and by emphasizing Biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck who constantly refers to Milieus as a plural adjective and sees into the milieu as an expression as nothing more than water air and light confirming the genus within the milieu, in this case the human species, relates to a function of the population and its social and political interaction in which both form an artificial and natural milieu. This milieu appears as a target of intervention for power according to Foucault which is radically different from the previous notions on sovereignty, territory and disciplinary space inter woven into from a social and political relations which function as a species (biological species).[12]


Stewart Clegg proposes another three-dimensional model with his "circuits of power"[13] theory. This model likens the production and organizing of power to an electric circuit board consisting of three distinct interacting circuits: episodic, dispositional, and facilitative. These circuits operate at three levels, two are macro and one is micro. The episodic circuit is the micro level and is constituted of irregular exercise of power as agents address feelings, communication, conflict, and resistance in day-to-day interrelations. The outcomes of the episodic circuit are both positive and negative. The dispositional circuit is constituted of macro level rules of practice and socially constructed meanings that inform member relations and legitimate authority. The facilitative circuit is constituted of macro level technology, environmental contingencies, job design, and networks, which empower or disempower and thus punish or reward, agency in the episodic circuit. All three independent circuits interact at "obligatory passage points" which are channels forempowerment or disempowerment.

Gene Sharp

Gene Sharp, an American professor of political science, believes that power depends ultimately on its bases. Thus a political regime maintains power because people accept and obey its dictates, laws and policies. Sharp cites the insight of Étienne de La Boétie.

Sharp's key theme is that power is not monolithic; that is, it does not derive from some intrinsic quality of those who are in power. For Sharp, political power, the power of any state – regardless of its particular structural organization – ultimately derives from the subjects of the state. His fundamental belief is that any power structure relies upon the subjects' obedience to the orders of the ruler(s). If subjects do not obey, leaders have no power.

His work is thought to have been influential in the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic, in the 2011 Arab Spring, and other nonviolent revolutions.

Björn Kraus

Björn Kraus deals with the epistemological perspective upon power regarding the question about possibilities of interpersonal influence by developing a special form of constructivism ("Machtanalytischer Konstruktivismus").[16] Instead of focussing on the valuation and distribution of power, he asks first and foremost what the term can describe at all. Coming from Max Weber's definition of power, he realizes that the term of power has to be split into "instructive power" and "destructive power".:105:126 More precisely, instructive power means the chance to determine the actions and thoughts of another person, whereas destructive power means the chance to diminish the opportunities of another person. How significant this distinction really is, becomes evident by looking at the possibilities of rejecting power attempts: Rejecting instructive power is possible – rejecting destructive power is not. By using this distinction, proportions of power can be analyzed in a more sophisticated way, helping to sufficiently reflect on matters of responsibility.:139 f. This perspective permits to get over an "either-or-position" (either there is power, or there isn't), which is common especially in epistemological discourses about power theories, and to introduce the possibility of an "as well as-position".

© Georgina Rowlands, all rights reserved