Understanding Society on Michael Mann on Power


Daniel Little on Michael Mann’s hugely ambitious four volume The Sources of Social Power.

In 1986 Michael Mann began a strikingly ambitious project — to give a theoretical and historical account of the history of power in human history.  This effort came to closure in the past few months with the publication of volume 3 (The Sources of Social Power: Volume 3, Global Empires and Revolution, 1890-1945) and volume 4 (The Sources of Social Power: Volume 4, Globalizations, 1945-2011). (Two other titles were published as offshoots of this project, Fascists and The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing.)

This is an amazing corpus, and I think it throws important light on both the theory and the history. It is historical sociology on a macro-scale; and yet Mann also provides careful, almost ethnographic details at the level of individual actors — fascists, ethnic paramilitaries, legislators, colonial administrators. So I think Mann also offers a great example of a sociologist who is not prisoner to a single methodology or a single avenue of approach to these supremely complex social processes. [more]

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