Unit 3: Reality: Power and Injustice

We now move on to explore the some of the key ways in which economic, political, cultural, psychological power is organised and exercised. We will also survey some critiques of these power structures, accounts of their injustices and the ways in which they have suppressed human flourishing.

3.1 Property and the origin of the state

  • Private ownership of productive property is one of the most basic ways in which power is organised.
  • The state is a specific and historically contingent form of political organisation in which overwhelming coercive power is exercised by a central authority.

Readings; excerpts from:

  • James C. Scott, ‘Against the Grain’ and ‘Seeing Like a State’
  • Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality

3.2 The real and ideal nature of state power

  • The state has been theorised in a variety of ways. Here we explore two prominent, contrasting approaches.
  • The ‘realist’ tradition of Hobbes and Machiavelli highlights the monstrous, immoral nature of state power.
  • The ‘idealist’, constitutionalist approach, here exemplified by Locke, posits the state as a potentially legitimate guarantor of individual rights, subject to the legitimising endorsement of the people it rules.

Readings; excerpts from:

  • Machiavelli, The Prince
  • Hobbes, Leviathan,
  • Locke, Second Treatise on Government

3.3 Bureacracy

  • Administration has its own logic and is a distinct form of power; this is especially clear in complex modern societies where virtually every aspect of life is subject to some measure of official regulation.
  • We will explore the nature and consequences of bureacratisation.

Readings: excerpts from

  • Weber, TBC
  • Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy
  • Graeber, Utopia of Rules

3.3 Class struggle

  • Economic contestation is a central dynamic of human life. It’s key theorist is Karl Marx, who argues that struggle between those who control productive property and those who do the work of production is the defining dynamic of all human socieites.

Readings; excerpts from:

  • Marx, Capital (TBC)
  • Marx, Estranged Labour
  • Contemporary Marxism, TBC

3.4 Nationalism

  • Nationalism is a distinctively modern mechanism for unifying and mobilising large groups of people who might otherwise not have much in common, lack strong shared loyalty etc.
  • It involves the invention and invocation of a shared national identity embodied in language, culture, history etc.
  • It is one of the most powerful and destructive forces of recent centuries, although it also played a more positive role in struggles for liberation from colonialism.

Reading; excerpt from:

  • Gellner, Nations and Nationalism

3.5 Empire                                      

Readings: TBC

  • Angela Davis
  • Lenin
  • Ho Chi Minh
  • Mao

3.6 Race                                          

Readings: TBC

  • Fanon, The Fact of Blackness

3.7 Structural injustice

Readings: TBC

  • Sally Haslanger

3.8 Oppression


  • IM Young, Five Faces of Oppression

3.9 Neoliberal discipline


  • Wendy Brown, TBC on neoliberal subjectivity.