The following quotations are from:
Steven Lukes, Power: A Radical View, pp. 69, 71, 72, 73-74. Palgrave Macmillan 2005.
“The Concept of Power
It seems that there are several, even many concepts of power. But when and how are we to distinguish these concepts one from another? And in the case of a dispute about where power lies or about its extent or effects, how can we tell whether the disputants are disagreeing about the facts, applying different concepts or engaging in a contest over the same concept? And does it matter? In what follows I shall maintain that it does matter. I shall propose that there is, indeed, a single, comprehensive, extremely general or generic concept of power common to all cases and that, in application to human agents (individual and collective) it exhibits two distinct variants (which we can provisionally, but misleadingly, label as the concepts of ‘power to’ and ‘power over’), where the latter is a subspecies of the former…” 69
“When the generic sense of ‘power’ is used in relation to social life, it refers to the capacities of social agents. Let us agree that these agents may be individuals or collectivities, of various kinds. To begin with individuals, we can, I hope, further agree, along with Aristotle, that, unlike natural powers, such as the power of fire to burn wood, there are human powers that are typically ‘two-way powers, powers which can be exercised at will’; for, as Kenny remarks, ‘a rational agent, presented with all the necessary external conditions for exercising a power, may choose not to do so’ (Kenny 1975:53). But, Kenny further observes, there are also human powers that are not two-way, or subject to choice, as when if ‘someone speaks a language I know in my hearing it isn’t in my power not to understand it’ (ibid). Such ‘passive powers, where the agent ‘receives’ rather than ‘makes’ changes, experiencing rather than bringing about the outcome, can be of great significance: compare the passive power of the starving to recuperate by being nourished, with the active power of the religious ascetic to starve. So we may say that human powers are, typically, abilities activated by agents choosing to do so(though the choice may be highly constrained, and alternative paths unlikely to be taken) and also passive powers which the agents may possess irrespective of their wills.
Moreover, the agents may be individual or collective agents. The latter can be of many kinds: states, institutions, associations, alliances, social movements, groups, clubs and so on. Collectivities typically have co-ordination problems but, where these do not exist or can be overcome, so that the collectivity can act, then it too can be said to have power and that power may also be two-way: it may or may not be activated.” 71-72
“But social power… whether held individually or collectively, does not yet correspond to what, in common parlance and in the writings of philosophers, historians and social scientists, ‘power’ is commonly taken to identify. In this more restrictive but widespread understanding, ‘power’ is explicitly relational and asymmetrical: to have power is to have power over another or others. The distinction between the general sense of a social actor’s power to effect or receive outcomes and this more restricted sense has nowhere been better captured than by Spinoza, in the Latin language, when, in his Tractatus Politicus he distinguishes between ‘potentia’ and ‘potestas’. ‘Potentia’ signifies the power of things in nature, including persons, ‘to exist and act’). ‘Potestas’ is used when speaking of being in the power of another. According to Spinoza,
One individual is subject to the right of another, or dependent upon him, for as long as he is subject to the other’s power; and possessed of his own right, or free, in so far as he can repel all force, take what vengeance he pleases for harm done to him, and, to speak generally, live as his own nature and judgment dictate. (Spinoza 1958 :273)
The Latin words, as expounded by Spinoza, perfectly capture this conceptual distinction on which the rest of this chapter draws. They do so more precisely than the available terms in various live languages…
The concept of asymmetric power, or power as potestas, or ‘power over’, is, therefore, a sub-concept or version of the concept of power as potentia: it is the ability to have another or others in your power, by constraining their choices, thereby securing their compliance. Such power is the ability to effect a distinctive range of outcomes: among them those captured by the concept of domination, and such closely related notions as subordination, subjugation, control, conformism, acquiescence and docility. But now a whole new set of questions arises. How is power as domination—and in particular how are the outcomes indicated and the mechanisms that bring them about—to be understood, theorized about and studied empirically?” 73-74