Power and luck

Steven Lukes, LaDawn Haglund

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


In applying rational choice theory to the debates about power, it has been proposed that distinguishing power from luck yields new insights. Specifically, it has been suggested that, where social and institutional structures favour some and disfavour others, the former have the good luck to get what they want without trying and the latter the bad luck to be faced with collective action problems that prevent them from furthering their interests. Against such proposals, it is argued that luck, thus understood, is non-explanatory and, moreover, de-politicizing. It is further argued that they exemplify a narrow conception of power that defines it as intentional, as involving positive interventions in the world, as furthering the wants of the powerful and as altering the incentive structures of others. Such a conception closes off questions about the operations of power where these are more or less indirect, ongoing and often inaccessible to direct observation, and only very partially and superficially captured by the "snapshot" accounts of structured interaction among strategic actors characteristic of rational choice theory. A broader and more dynamic view, revealing the complexities of power, allows that the powerful can hold and exert their power without intending to, without positively intervening in the world and irrespective of their actual "brute" wants; and that their power consists in being capable and responsible for affecting (negatively or positively) the subjective and/ or objective interests of others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)45-66+169-170
JournalArchives Europeennes de Sociologie
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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