Theories of Social Power

University of Otago

Course Description

  • Course Name

    Theories of Social Power

  • Host University

    University of Otago

  • Location

    Dunedin, New Zealand

  • Area of Study


  • Language Level

    Taught In English

  • Prerequisites

    18 200-level SOCI, GEND, CRIM or ANTH points or 54 200-level Arts points

  • Course Level Recommendations


    ISA offers course level recommendations in an effort to facilitate the determination of course levels by credential evaluators.We advice each institution to have their own credentials evaluator make the final decision regrading course levels.

    Hours & Credits

  • Credit Points

  • Recommended U.S. Semester Credits
    3 - 4
  • Recommended U.S. Quarter Units
    4 - 6
  • Overview

    Examines the interconnections between an individual?s knowledge and social power, critically analysing the complex interrelationships between individual freedom and structural determinism in the expression of social power. Case studies include anti-war demonstrations, Greenpeace, and New Zealand?s drink-driving legislation and advertising campaigns.

    How do people get what they want? How does an individual have the ability to influence others and control their future? Some of this may be zeal and know-how, but much of an individual's power is derived from society. This paper focuses on theories that explain the relationship between broad social structures and individual agency. From these perspectives, power is exercised by people or groups of people, but relies on social rules, resources and norms. We begin the paper by looking at philosophy on the relationship between the self and society and expand to consider how social rules are legitimised and how unequal power relations are produced and reproduced. Throughout the paper, examples from everyday life will be used to illustrate theories. Students are required to apply and communicate theories using examples from their own experiences and from media sources. Students are assessed internally through blog posts and writing assignments.

    Course Structure
    Key topics will include:
    -Early philosophies of power
    -The state and governance
    -Institutions and norms
    -Arenas of institutional power (education, law, health)
    -Interaction and performances of power
    -Class, race and gender as systems of power

    Learning Outcomes
    -Students will learn how power operates in society
    -They will become familiar with foundational thinkers in contemporary sociology, as well as some of the micro-theories and core areas of interest
    -They will learn how to use those theories to identify and explain how power is operating in everyday life

    Text books are not required for this paper.
    Readings will be available on Blackboard.

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