July 13th, 2020

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.
 Full Article

July 6th, 2020

Desert Walk


Historically, the expansion of the American frontier symbolized a unity between political liberty and economic growth, at the same time as it justified the violent expropriation that continues to define the country's racial and distributional politics.

In a 1998 article, environmental historian DONALD J. PISANI analyzes these dynamics through the monopolization of California's mining industry, arguing that legislation enacted during the California Gold Rush shaped the trajectory of property relations in the American West.

From the piece:

"Those who flocked to California at the end of the 1840s carried with them strong ideas about the nature of property, the right of American citizens beyond the pale of law to govern themselves, and the power of American citizens to make their own rules concerning the acquisition and use of public lands—including those containing mineral deposits. Nevertheless, Congress had authorized the sale of lead and copper lands. Would it now authorize the sale of gold-bearing land to the highest bidders? This was the question that faced the U.S. Army in California when gold was discovered in January 1848.

In the late 1840s and early 1850s, free mining provided reasonably equal access to wealth. But during the 1850s, as corporations increasingly dominated mining, the law changed from encouraging economic democracy to protecting capital. Perhaps the best example was the legal permission to "follow the vein." Initially California's mining camp codes limited hardrock miners to part of a vein, often one hundred feet. As early as 1852, however, Nevada County modified its laws to encourage miners to follow a vein downward to any depth and in any direction, even if they tunneled under an adjoining claim. The new laws were designed to protect investors from financial loss when only the tail end of an out cropping was located within their claim. For decades after the golden years of the mining industry had passed, these monopolies enjoyed disproportionate power in the legislature."

Link to the open access article.

  • "War and emancipation brought profound change not only to the lives of enslaved people but also to broader patterns of economic development, forms of governmental activity, and, above all, property relations." Emma Teitelman examines the "transregional wave of land enclosures" that took place during reconstruction. Link. (Stay tuned for Teitelman's forthcoming piece in Phenomenal World.)
  • Paul Gates' History of Public Land Law Development offers a comprehensive account of legislation regulating the use of the public domain. Link.
  • "The claim club or squatters' association has long occupied a place in western history. No historian, however, has fully explored the social interactions in these frontier groups." Allan G. Bogue examines the dynamics within the squatters associations which proliferated across the West in the early 19th century. Link. And Alan Derickson's excellent book tells the history of hardrock miners' self-organized health and welfare programs, which emerged in the following decades. Link.
 Full Article