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SOCI302 Theories of Social Power

Examines the interconnections between an individual’s knowledge and social power, critically analysing the complex interrelationships between individual freedom and structural determinism in the expression of social power. Case studies include anti-war demonstrations, Greenpeace, and New Zealand’s drink-driving legislation and advertising campaigns.

How do people get what they want? How does an individual have the ability to influence others and control their future? Some of this may be zeal and know-how, but much of an individual's power is derived from society. This paper focuses on theories that explain the relationship between broad social structures and individual agency. From these perspectives power is exercised by people or groups of people, but relies on social rules, resources and norms. We begin the paper by looking at philosophy on the relationship between the self and society and expand to consider how social rules are legitimised and how unequal power relations are produced and reproduced. Throughout the paper examples from everyday life will be used to illustrate theories. Students are required to apply and communicate theories using examples from their own experiences and from media sources. 

Paper title Theories of Social Power
Paper code SOCI302
Subject Sociology
EFTS 0.15
Points 18 points
Teaching period Semester 2 (On campus)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $929.55
International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.

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18 200-level ANTH, CRIM, GEND or SOCI points or 54 200-level Arts points
Schedule C
Arts and Music
This paper is designed particularly for students in Sociology, Gender and Social Work, but is appropriate for any students interested in social theory and power.

Teaching staff

Co-ordinator and Lecturer: Dr Simon Barber

Paper Structure
Key topics will include:
  • Early philosophies of power
  • The state and governance
  • Institutions and norms
  • Post-colonialism
  • Neoliberalism
  • Arenas of institutional power (education, law, health)
  • Interaction and performances of power
  • Class, race and gender as systems of power
Teaching Arrangements
Students are required to attend a lecture and tutorial once a week.
Textbooks are not required for this paper.
Readings will be available on Blackboard.
Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Critical thinking.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes
Students who successfully complete the paper will
  • Learn how power operates in society
  • Become familiar with foundational thinkers in contemporary sociology, as well as some of the micro-theories and core areas of interest
  • Learn how to use those theories to identify and explain how power is operating in everyday life

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Semester 2

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
A1 Thursday 14:00-15:50 28-34, 36-41


Stream Days Times Weeks
Attend one stream from
A1 Friday 11:00-11:50 29-34, 36-41
A2 Friday 12:00-12:50 29-34, 36-41