Through The Fields


Michael Mann’s four volume magnum opus, The Sources of Social Power, analyzes the history of human societies from antiquity to the present. Theoretically, the work’s major contribution is the so-called IEMP model, which examines historical shifts through the relations between ideological, economic, military, and political power. In Mann’s work, no single source of power takes analytical precedence over any other.

From the third volume:

“We may distinguish distributive from collective power—that is, power exercised over others, and power secured jointly through cooperation with others. Power may also be authoritative or diffuse. The former involves commands by an individual or collective actor and conscious obedience by subordinates, and the latter spreads in a relatively spontaneous and decentered way. Finally, it can be extensive, organizing large numbers of people over far-flung territories, or intensive, mobilizing a high level of commitment from a limited group of participants. The most effective exercise of power is collective and distributive, extensive and intensive, authoritative and diffuse. That is why a single source—say, the economy or the military—cannot alone determine the overall structure of societies.

The four power sources offer distinct organizational networks and means for humans to pursue their goals. But which means are chosen, and in which combinations, depends on interaction between what power configurations are historically-given and what emerge interstitially within and between them. This is the main mechanism of social change in human societies, preventing any single power elite from clinging indefinitely onto power. The sources of social power and the organizations embodying them are promiscuous. They weave in and out of each other in a complex interplay between institutionalized and emergent, interstitial forces.”

Link to the introduction.

  • “The expansion of global networks seems to weaken local interaction networks more than national ones.” In a 2011 paper, Mann complicates popular analyses of globalization. Link.
  • Collected reflections on Mann’s work, with commentary from Robert Brenner, John Hobson, and David Laitin, among many others. Link.
  • “The oligarchic regime of the Roman conquest state was maintained as long as political, military, and ideological power were controlled by the same aristocratic collective. Once military power broke from political and ideological constraints, the rule of the collective was replaced by warlords and monarchs.” Walter Scheidel draws on Mann’s framework in his comparative history of ancient Rome and China. Link.
  • “Michael Mann can confidently say that the relationship between revolutions and geopolitical pressures is ‘as consistent a relationship as we can find in macrosociology.’ Yet no such correlation exists in Latin America.” Miguel Angel Centeno challenges Mann’s conclusions with a history of Latin American nation-states. Link.


Bureaucratic oversight and welfare provision

PhD candidate in Political Science TARA SLOUGH studies the distributional politics of bureaucracy in low-income countries. In a 2019 working paper, she developes a national-scale factorial audit experiment of Colombia’s two largest national social welfare programs to test how bureaucratic behavior shapes inequality in access to public benefits.

From the paper:

“Inequalities in access to public goods and services have long challenged developing democracies, inhibiting efforts to reduce socioeconomic inequality and promote economic development. Some inequality is the deliberate result of politicians’ budget policies or targeting, but inequalities may also emerge in the production of these goods and services. As ‘producers of public goods,’ bureaucrats map politicians’ budget allocations into outputs. I argue that bureaucrats are prone to exert differential effort in providing service to different groups of citizens. Variation in bureaucratic effort in turn creates inequality in citizen access to public services. These disparities can emerge even when budget allocations are equitable. Taken together, my findings suggest that socioeconomic inequalities generate political inequalities in citizens’ ability to extract oversight over bureaucrats responsible for service provision. These inequalities in voice engender inequality in access to poverty reduction programs intended to mitigate existing disparities.”

Link to the paper, link to Slough’s website.

Each week we highlight great work from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Have you read any excellent research recently that you’d like to see shared here? Send it our way:

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  • “[Recent] targeting and implementation challenges have revealed an inconvenient truth for those advocating for universal (or targeted) guaranteed income programs: the United States currently lacks the necessary infrastructure to make such programs a reality.” Three of JFI’s guaranteed income team—Stephen Nunez, Sidhya Balakrishnan, and Sara Constantino—have published the first in a series of papers on the development of infrastructure for widespread cash disbursement in the United States. Link to the paper.
  • A new post on the Phenomenal World by sociologist Monica Prasad looks at the partisan history of US tax policy: “The Republican Party of today is defined by its commitment to tax cuts, deregulation, and austerity. But prior to the Reagan administration, the Republicans were actually the party seen as most likely to increase taxes in order to avoid deficits.” Link.
  • Our Social Wealth Seminar series launched this past Tuesday with a presentation from Naomi Zewde on inequalities in health and wealth. The next session, on Tuesday July 21, features Yakov Feygin on “Sovereign Wealth Funds and Public Wealth Building Institutions in the Context of the Global Dollar System.” Please RSVP at, and read more about the series here. (And read Yakov’s recent piece, co-authored with Dominik Leusder, on the Phenomenal World.)
  • A town in Washington is printing a local currency as part of its Covid response. Link. See Nathan Tankus’ substack dispatch on local currencies as a countercyclical measure for more on the topic, and Paul Katz and Leandro Ferreira’s essay on the local currency and cash transfer program in Maríca, Brazil.
  • The gendered impact of the pandemic lockdown on paid and unpaid work in Spain. By Lídia Farré et al. Link. h/t Alison Oh
  • Siqi Luo and Tao Yang identify “a new model of enterprise-level collective bargaining in South China.” Link. Also in this issue of The China Quarterly: policing in Xinjiang, and rural property rights. Link and link.
  • New paper by Adam Przeworski, Jose Cheibub, and Ji Yeon Jean Hong compares response rates to the Covid crisis: “We examine at which stages of the spread governments introduced four measures that to varying degrees abrogate liberal rights: school closings, bans on meetings, compulsory lockdowns, and shutting work.” Link. Relatedly, Thomas Hale et al attempt to examine relationships between socioeconomic and political factors in the public health response to Covid. Link.
  • Identifying supply chain bottlenecks in a pandemic. By Vasvo Carvalho, Matt Elliott, and John Spray. Link.
  • Johan Ericsson and Jakob Molinder “examine how construction workers’ wages in Sweden developed between 1831 and 1900.” Link.
  • On the welfare impact of tourism in Barcelona: “We find that tourism is slightly negative for locals, however these losses mask substantial heterogeneity across the city.” By Treb Allen et al. Link.
  • A new paper by Piort Dworczak, Scott Kominers, and Mohammad Akbarpour on redistribution through markets: “Competitive-equilibrium allocation is not always optimal. When there is substantial inequality across sides of the market, the optimal design uses a tax-like mechanism.” Link.
  • “This paper suggests the price of leather was an important, if not a crucial factor in explaining Pope Paul’s decision in 1966 to repeal the prohibition against eating meat on Fridays. This decision was followed by a decrease in the price of leather, producing substantial rents for the Italian and Spanish leather goods and footwear industry. These rents, in turn, could explain why the Italian Cardinals (who continued to control the Curia) would have supported the Pope’s decree, rather than oppose it.” By Mark Thornton. Link

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations:

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