Clarissa Hayward (Washington University in St. Louis): Structural Power and Structural Change

Dec 8, 2022, 4:30 pm6:00 pm
Corwin Hall, Room 127
Open to Princeton University ID Holders


Event Description

Political Philosophy Colloquium

Abstract: This paper makes the case that attending to the mutual constitution of social structure and social action helps explain both why many power relations are exceedingly difficult to challenge and to change, and also how people nevertheless sometimes succeed in transforming them. It begins by considering the logic and the limits of what I characterize as a classic, agent-centric approach to conceptualizing power. It then turns to three characteristics of social power, understood in more structural terms. First, power has no mastermind; it does not wear the face of a powerful agent, who controls and directs it. Second, power shapes action, not only by prohibiting and constraining human actors, but also by habituating them. Third, power has a protean quality; social structures intersect with and reinforce one another in ways that often shift and mutate over time. Attending to these three characteristics can help us understand what makes structural power relations so difficult to change and how it is that people sometimes nevertheless do transform them, and it can enrich accounts of responsibility for structural power.

Clarissa Rile Hayward is a Professor of Political Science at Washington University in St. Louis and Co-Editor of the American Political Science Review. Her most recent book, How Americans Make Race: Stories, Institutions, Spaces (Cambridge University Press, 2013), was co-winner of the American Political Science Association's prize for the Best Book in Urban Politics. She is also author of De-Facing Power (Cambridge University Press, 2000). She is currently working on a new book, tentatively titled This is What Democracy Looks Like!

  • Department of Politics
  • University Center for Human Values