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Politics (1st edn)

Peter Ferdinand, Robert Garner, and Stephanie Lawson
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date: 30 May 2023

p. 493. Political Power, Authority, and the Statelocked

p. 493. Political Power, Authority, and the Statelocked

  • Peter Ferdinand, Peter FerdinandEmeritus Reader in Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick
  • Robert GarnerRobert GarnerProfessor of Politics, University of Leicester
  •  and Stephanie LawsonStephanie LawsonProfessor of Politics and International Studies, Macquarie University


This chapter examines power and authority, two central concepts in politics, in relation to the state. It first defines power in the context of authority, taking into account the distinction between them by citing the role of the US Supreme Court as an example. It then considers the classic threefold typology of authority proposed by German sociologist Max Weber, namely: traditional authority, charismatic authority, and legal–rational authority. It also addresses some conceptual questions about power; for example, whether power is the same as force, whether it must be exercised deliberately, whether it is a good thing, or whether we can eliminate it. The chapter goes on to explore the methodological problems inherent in the measurement of power, particularly in relation to the theories of the state such as Marxism, pluralism, elitism, and feminism. Finally, it describes Stephen Lukes' three dimensions of power.

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