Archive for November, 2016

Michael Mann in Spotlight


photoMichael Mann was born in 1942 in Manchester, UK to a lower-middle-class family. Mann attended a local grammar school and then went on to study BA modern history at the University of Oxford and then studied for his PhD in sociology at the same institution. Mann then went on to work on projects surrounding world history and historical sociology working in institutions such as the University of Essex, the London School of Economics (LSE) and University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Mann’s key works include The Sources of Social Power Vol I-V, Power and the 21st Century and The Dark Side of Democracy. Mann’s work is particularly distinctive in its middle ground approach, between theory and history. The result is a back and forth, continuing dialogue between historical research and theoretical hypothesis.


Mann describes the nation as a body which evolved out of states’ response to ever-growing industrialisation. As such, in Mann’s work, the state is considered fundamental to the creation of the nation. In chapter 3 of The Sources of Social Power Volume II, Mann reviews five theories of the modern state. Critical of the widely accepted three theories of the state, Mann modifies and breaks them down into (1) class, (2) pluralist, (3) true elitism, (4) institutional statism and (5) cock-up/foul-up theory.

Class theory – Mann argues that most class theories have been Marxist in nature, in their often reduction of states to purely economic power. This theory suggests that states are functional for modes of economic production/classes and that modern states have been determined by two phases of class struggle: feudal/capitalist bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie and proletariat. Class theory recognises that states are in some sense capitalist in that they service capital accumulation and class regulation. Mann notes that modern state personnel are the direct instrument of the capitalist class or they function structurally to reproduce capitalist relations of production. Fundamentally, the state is not an actor, but passive and a place where classes and class fractions organise.

Pluralist theory – Mann highlights that pluralist theory claims to only explain the formation of modern states. Pluralist theory is concerned with how contestation between parties and pressure groups, representing interests of groups in society, and the widening scope of participation by the people in this contestation, generates genuine democracy. For pluralists, a broadening party democracy is the defining crystallisation of modern Western states. Through party democracy, states ultimately represent the interests of individual citizens. Pluralist theory suggests that the state is the “factor of cohesion” in society

True Elitism theory – True elitists emphasise the distributive power of state elites over society. Thus, states are seen as rational actors, from which distributive power radiates outward from. True elitists are open to discussion of international relations and recognise that states inhabit a world of states and that states act geopolitically. States are a unitary power actors enjoying sovereignty over their territories, thus foreign policy is made by states “realistically” pursuing their own geopolitical interests against those of other states. This theory may usefully apply to authoritarian or dictatorial states. Like Pluralist theory and Class theory, True Elitism theory places an emphasis on a cohesive, systemic state.

Institutional Statism theory – Mann argues that institutional statism theory suggests that the state consists of complex organisational networks and that the emphasis should be placed upon collective power rather than distributive power. Mann states that this theory would differ from True Elitism theory in that it argues that all actors are constrained by existing political institutions, rather than the idea that state elites dominate civil society. Institutional Statism theory is based around the idea that states are essentially ways in which dynamic social relations become authoritatively institutionalised. States institutionalise present social conflicts, thus they go from being passive (as in class theory and pluralist theory) to the state not quite as an actor (true elitism theory) to active.

Cock-up/Foul-up theory – This theory, Mann argues, suggests that the state is not a conspiracy but “cock-up” or that the state is not functional but “foul-up.” This theory goes against most sociologists ideas of social life being patterned or ordered in that is suggests states are actually chaotic, sprawling and irrational, with multiple departmental autonomies, far removed from the cohesion suggested by the previous four theories. States are ridden by multiple disputes, some geopolitical, others domestic and entwining in unanticipated ways. This theory actually suggests that many of the things that happen during the decision making process are not in keeping with anyone’s intentions; they are simply mistakes.



In his book „The Sources of Social Power“, Mann describes the evolution of the nation-state as increasingly strengthening its sovereignty, its infrastructural powers and its powers of national mobilisation. He presents a four-phase theory of the nation: 1) the religious phase, 2) the capitalist-statist phase, 3) the militarist phase, and 4) the industrial capitalist phase. The religious and capitalist-statist phases contributed to creating ‘protonations’ while the military phase and industrial capitalist phase allowed for three different types of nations to develop – state reinforcing (England), state creating (Germany) and state subverting (Austrian lands).

The class conflicts created by capitalism in relation to local circumstances fuelled the creation of all three types of nations. The middle class, peasants and workers become literate in native vernaculars and naturalised or fragmented the existing state into nations, while also increasingly demanding political representation. The two dominant political issues in the 19th century were representation (who should be full citizens) and the ‘national’ issue (how centralised the state and nation should be). The military and later the industrial capital phases of state expansion intensified both issues. In particular state subverting nationalism became increasingly violent especially if reinforced by religion, while state reinforcing nationalism centred on interstate wars. Mann argues that aggressive nationalism did not spread deeply amongst most of the middle class it did include a large military administration comprised of young men disciplined into a modern army. Alongside the large civilian administration also dependent on the state for their livelihood they formed the core of people loyal to the ideals of their state.

The fourth phase in the theory of the nation – industrial capitalism – also saw increasing pressure towards creating a more representative and national state. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries states began to undertake major civilian functions including communication systems (post offices, railways, roads) and schools. States responded to the needs of capitalism articulated by capitalists, elites, and militaries, all of which valued greater social coordination. These state activities furthered the linking of the intensive and emotional organisation of the family and neighbourhood with the instrumental power of the state organisations. In this fourth phase the population of the state had become naturalised – an extensive community of interaction emotional attachment. Citizens from the upper and middle classes were drawn towards nationalist organisations, disproportionately from a core group of civilian and military employees. During the 20th century the functions of the state increased into overlapping and intersecting power networks.


In the Dark Side of Democracy, Michael Mann attempts to explain why the 20th Century was witness to large scale ethnic violence.  Mann goes on to say that, “Murderous cleansing is modern because  it is the dark side of democracy (Mann, 2005, p.2). The problem, according to Mann, is that nationalism has become politicized through the spread of democratic aspirations within nation states. This has happened because the “demos” and the “ethnos” have become intertwined. So when people speak of “rule by the people”, they mean a dominant ethnic group, as opposed to a diverse group of citizens. This means that the democracy is run through the rule of the majority, where ethnic unity is an important component. Democracy, therefore, is structured around ethnic and nationalist principles.

When it comes to the definition of Ethnicity, Mann rejects biological definitions of the term.  He brings up Scots, Germans and Serbs as example of ethnic groups that have mixed with other ethnic groups, that trying to use a biological definition is insufficient. Ethnicity,  Mann claims, are formed by social relations and that they are created in many different ways. Ultimately, he defines “ethnicity” as a  group of people that share a common descent or culture (Mann, 2005, p.11.).  “Ethnic cleansing” is the “removal by members of one such group of another such group from a locality they define as their own” (Mann, 2005, p.11) . Mann also defines the nation as an ethnic group that possess a political conscientious and claiming political rights within a certain territory, and a nation-state is when the nation gains political sovereignty (Mann, 2005, p.11). Mann approaches ethnic cleansing through the interaction of different power networks that occur within a nation-state.

The four different networks of power identified as a necessary to the accomplishment of ethnic cleansing are: ideological power, economic power, military power and political power (Mann, 2005, p.30-32).  Ideology, a set of values, norms and rituals, is carried by various communication networks within the state. They used to mobilize mass marches, rallies and raise awareness to relevant issues.  They generally compete with other opposing ideologies, and people pick ones that make the most sense in their set of circumstances.

Economic Power is important because cleanings involve some sort of material interest. . Ideas of class are often transferred into ethnic identities. One ethnic group can see itself as being oppressed and exploited, while the oppressor sees itself as defending civilization. This also affects groups that occupy economic niches as they often face discrimination from the dominant ethnic group. The best example of this is European Jews who were often discriminated against, but occupied vital posts in the economy. Economic power also manifests itself as looting during cleansing campaigns as the perpetrators will take valuables from their victims.

Military Power refers to organized and lethal concentrated violence. Cleansings become an attractive option because they cost little in manpower and material terms.  They are also effective against a mobile enemy that prefers to fight in a guerilla-style or during long-term sieges.  Political power references to a centralized and territorial regulation of life. Mann theorizes that this is the source of most cleanings. Rival groups claiming primacy of the state is where most civil wars begin and these wars can easily stray into the realm of ethnic cleansing.



Mann Presents 8 theses that serve as explanations for why Ethnic Cleansings occur:

  1. Ethnic Cleansings are modern because they are the darkside of democracy.
  2. Ethnic Hostility rises where ethnicity trumps class as the main form of social stratification
  3. The danger zone of murderous cleansing is reached when a.)movements claiming to represent two fairly old ethnic groups both lay claim to their own state over all or part of the same territory and b.) this claim seems to them to have substantial legitimacy and some plausible chance of being implemented.
  4. The brink of murderous cleansing is reached when one of the two alternative scenarios plays out. 4(a) The less powerful side is bolstered  to fight rather than submit by believing that aid will come from the outside. 4(b) states that the stronger side believes it has such overwhelming military power and ideological legitimacy that it can force through its own cleansed state.
  5. Going over the brink in the perpetration of murderous cleansing occurs where the state has exercised sovereignty over the contested territory has been factionalized and radicalized amid unstable geopolitical environment
  6. Murderous cleansing is rarely the initial intent of perpetrators
  7. There are 3 levels of perpetrators: a.) radical elites running party-states b.)bands of militants forming violent paramilitaries and c.) core constituencies providing mass though not popular support.
  8. Ordinary people are brought by normal social structures into committing murderous ethnic cleansing. (Mann, 2005, p.2-9)


Mann reviews several case studies of ethnic cleansing touching briefly on new world cleansings before moving to the numerous examples of mass cleansing that the 20th century has offered.  He views them all from his model of power structures and uses his theses to explain how these horrific events were allowed to happen and the motivations of the perpetrators.



  1. Is there really, as by Mann described, a need of ethnic homogenisation in building democracies, are ethnic conflicts a necessity in democratisation? Mann writes, that the institutional representation of minorities can limit such conflicts in a stabile states, how could institutions look like to prevent conflicts and can modern day media be of help in this process? Or can it be equally dangerous as anger about misrepresentation can be canalised and expressed easily and widespread and lead to violent actions?
  2. Is the distinctions between the different forms of power in a state really possible as Mann describes it and are these powers not very much intertwined? Does Michael Mann focus too much on categorised institutionalised forms of power?
  3. Is Mann’s idea of nationalism too state focused, should there be other actors taken into account, such as international corporations? Which other actors could be interesting? Which other motivations are important for humans apart from pure power over others?

The UN treaty defining Genocide:


Examples: Ethnic conflicts and cleansings:

Genocide in Australia:

The number of the Aboriginal population in Australia dropped from estimated 750 000 when the first British settlers arrived (1788) to estimated 31 000 during the next 150 years.

The Genocide might have been not intended as such, but resulted from conflicts for resources but was based on the assumption, that:

Aboriginals are hardly human;

The Aboriginal population was seen as useless, unable to work and live like the new settlers;

They were not protected against diseases;

They were excluded from legal rights;

In the fight for land Aboriginals were murdered by white settlers which hardly had to fear any consequences.

The results of this genocide are still visible:

The estimated lifespan of the Aboriginal population is still lower than the lifespan of other population groups, often accompanied by lower social mobility

Further literature:

The Holocaust, the Aborigines, and the bureaucracy of destruction: an Australian dimension of genocide. Bartrop, Paul Robert In: Journal of Genocide Research 3,1 (2001) 75-87






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