On the social evolution of power to/over

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The distinction between ‘power to’ and ‘power over’, and the conceptualisation of their relationship, is highly relevant to an understanding of social evolution. They are in fact causally and historically interdependent. I claim that major social transformations such as the neolithic and industrial ‘revolutions’ need to be understood in this light, as does the heightening of formalised competition in contemporary liberal society. I consider the current literature on social evolution critically, and make a case for applying some of its ideas to the long-term general history of human society. The entire argument is framed within a concern to develop a more pragmatic understanding of power, aware of problems arising from an Enlightenment-derived distrust of ‘power over’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)175-191
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Political Power
Issue number2
Early online date10 Jun 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • power to/over
  • social evolution
  • historical sociology
  • liberal society
  • competition

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