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Collected essays
Author: Keith Dowding

The book collects thirteen previously published essays by Keith Dowding on social and political power, freedom, choice and luck. It is anchored by a substantial introductory essay that pulls together the different strands to demonstrate the coherence and connections between the different concepts discussed through the book. The book demonstrates the importance of the concept of power to political science and argues that comparative static definitions enable comparison of power structures in terms of agents’ resources. It shows the importance of systematic luck in understanding the power structure. However, static definitions are inherently unsatisfactory in dynamic settings. Here we need to apply game theory rather than game forms, and in dynamic settings luck is vital to our perception of freedom, responsibility and leadership. Later chapters reveal the problematic evaluation of choice and freedom and how these relate to responsibility. The book concludes by demonstrating that freedom and rights exist in different senses, which matter for our understanding of how much freedom exists in a society. It shows that Sen’s liberal paradox is ambiguous between rights as claims and rights as liberties; how fundamental his paradox is to our understanding of the conflict between rights and welfare depends on the manner in which we evaluate freedom.

Abstract only
Power, luck and freedom
Keith Dowding

This chapter discusses the links between the concepts of power, luck and freedom that are elucidated in the subsequent chapters of the book. It argues that comparative static definitions of power are correct for understanding the power structure of society and for comparing power across societies, but will always be inherently disappointing as power in action is dynamic. It discusses the nature of dynamic power and relates that to individual freedom, control and responsibility, demonstrating how luck underpins our understanding of freedom and responsibility.

in Power, luck and freedom
Keith Dowding

Being pluralist about the concept of power does not mean that all definitions are equally valid. Many definitions are non-rival and gain their utility from the specific contexts in which they are applied. Others are rival and their relative utility derives from how good an explanation is provided by the theory of which they are part. Such explanation is constrained by the world, because good explanation is constrained by the expectations it engenders. Some conceptions of power and related terms do similar explanatory work, but hold different normative values. The contestability of ‘power’ derives from the normative work it does in different contexts and explanations. By making our concepts as non-normative as possible, we can ensure that moral or political disagreement is brought into the open. How we define social and political power does matter in some contexts for both explanatory and normative reasons.

in Power, luck and freedom
Interpreting power relationships
Keith Dowding

Many debates over the ‘true’ nature of power relationships concern the importance given to agents or to structures in describing those relationships. Those who discuss the power structure or system tend to concentrate upon structures; those who write about the power of agents or power relationships tend to concentrate upon actors. The agency–structure relationship goes deep into many seemingly different issues in very different approaches to power. I argue that whilst the agency–structure divide is false, our interpretation of the world – the way in which we describe it – means we cannot fully transcend the structure–agency divide using natural language. Whether we choose to use the language of structures or of agents depends upon the questions we are seeking to answer and the commitments we wish to make in assigning responsibility. Ultimately, structural and agential accounts can describe the world in non-contradictory ways, though the choice of description demonstrates the sorts of commitments the describer has towards changing the world.

in Power, luck and freedom
Keith Dowding

This chapter applies Dowding’s analysis of power to the community power debate. It demonstrates the importance of the collective action problem to our understanding of power in society, showing that both pluralists and their radical critics misinterpret power in society by ignoring collective action problems. It demonstrates the nature of luck and systematic luck in the power structure.

in Power, luck and freedom
The fallacy of the vehicle fallacy
Keith Dowding

Sen’s capabilities are reducible to individual power. Morriss’s important distinction between ability and ableness is pertinent to the correct analysis of measuring capabilities. Morriss argues that reducing power to resources constitutes the vehicle fallacy. The vehicle fallacy is not a fallacy if resources are measured relationally – for example, the power of money is relative to its distribution. It follows that strategic considerations must enter into the very essence of the concept of power. While the term ‘resources’ in this essay is broader than in Dworkin’s account, the argument suggests that Sen’s capabilities account of egalitarian justice is not, after all, so different from Dworkin’s resource account.

in Power, luck and freedom
A response to Barry
Keith Dowding

Brian Barry attacks the ‘resource account’ of power, providing a set of definitions through which power should be analysed. While there might be different, equally good, ways of defining power, I argue that my formulations are superior to those of Barry, as they produce fewer anomalies and provide a better foundation for empirical research. The chapter defends the resource account against Barry’s criticisms and argues for the utility of the ideas of luck and ‘systematic luck’.

in Power, luck and freedom
Abstract only
Keith Dowding

People plan strategies to enable them to get what they want. Obviously, luck plays a part in achieving their desires. The question becomes: can one plan for that luck? As luck is normally defined and understood, the answer would be no. However, if luck is defined on the basis of obtaining what one wants without trying, as suggested by Brian Barry, then it is possible to consider a strategy of planning for luck. Indeed, one may plan only for luck and, with foresight in developing one’s future luck, this may be more efficient than other strategies. This chapter explains how this may be so through an examination of power based on cooperative game theory.

in Power, luck and freedom
Keith Dowding

Egalitarians claim that inequality in society is only justified to the extent that it results from choices freely and responsibly made. Inequality resulting from brute bad luck is not justified. I argue that luck, and therefore responsibility, are defined in terms of the reward structure. Luck and responsibility are epiphenomena of the incentives that people have to choose from the opportunity sets available. Egalitarians should therefore look more directly at the degree of inequality that is acceptable and examine more closely the classes of actions they want to leave to individual responsibility even where these will lead to greater inequality. State action should concentrate upon reducing inequality between classes of people; it cannot be expected to reduce all inequalities between people, even though many will have only peripheral relationships to responsibility.

in Power, luck and freedom
Abstract only
Keith Dowding

Some leaders are perceived as powerful, some as weak. Luck plays a large role in those perceptions. In strategic situations, some leaders appear stronger through luck rather than greater resources or ability. That perception then feeds back into the strategic game as reputation, which in turn gives them greater ability. The perception becomes the reality. Furthermore, context can make some appear strong and others weak. Even if the apparently weak get their way more often, that perception feeds into how leaders are regarded, further strengthening or weakening them.

in Power, luck and freedom