How Power Corrupts: Cognition and Democracy in Organisations Hardcover – 1 May 2010
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This book is now printed properly. Please disregard earlier reviews which state otherwise.
How Power Corrupts brings together cognitive psychology and democratic theory to examine the subtle and invisible ways in which power corrupts and organisations make us thinkSee all Product description
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What I found so exciting and thought provoking was the inclusion of novel findings from cognitive psychology and neurobiology that explain the actual mechanisms that affect and limit people’s perceptions. This allows an account of the actual processes, within the brain, whereby power limits the perceptions of both the powerful and subordinates (i.e. cognitive bias). However, because Blaug has a grounding in political theory he is always mindful of social and political contexts (which is often a weakness of cognitive psychology) and these too are fully explored and incorporated.
The most important thing this book does is answer ‘why do people so often collude in their own oppression?’. In answering this question (and convincingly so), the diverse yet complimentary theories that Blaug synthesises are capable of being applied to many more political and social questions than just the one in the title (that of ‘corruption by power’). For instance, in being able to explain why people collude in their own oppression, light is also shed on the instances when people do not. This, in turn, could provide insights about the formation of social and political movements as well as presence or absence of political identities. The analysis has fundamental implications for the structure / agency debate, ideology and hegemony, but these are often only addressed indirectly or tacitly. This is not a shortcoming of the book, which does everything it sets out to do, but much grander claims regarding the explanatory potential of the analysis could legitimately be made.
The book’s strengths are probably what will limit its appeal amongst an academic audience. Psychologists don’t want to be told about the social and cultural limitations of their findings, just as sociologists are uncomfortable accommodating or even acknowledging psychological perspectives. This book will make a lot of academics uncomfortable more used to their conventional disciplinary silos. Yet, none of the disciplines is capable of explaining so much about hierarchy on their own. The interdisciplinary analysis is greater than the sum of its parts, but there are very few who are comfortable straddling these areas as Blaug does so well.
The other related strength (that also limits its potential audience – at least in the short to medium term) is that to fully take on board the lessons of the book is to see the whole world afresh, through a brand new and unusual lens. There are not departments at universities filled with ‘Blaugians’ or a social movement to join, contribute to, debate with and be a part of (at least not yet). Therefore, reading this book might leave you feeling a little isolated, with no one to talk to about the new and exciting landscape you have just discovered all around you.
It may be that the importance of this book is never truly appreciated as widely as it should be. However, it may be that the analysis is picked up and run with and that, in the fullness of time, this book becomes highly influential, as it fully deserves to be.