Skip to main content Accessibility help

The structural power of business: taking structure, agency and ideas seriously

  • David Marsh, Sadiya Akram (a1) and Holly Birkett (a2)


The power of business is a very important issue for understanding the operation of democracy, but establishing the nature and extent of its power is not easy. We acknowledge that this is, in large part, an empirical problem and requires a more sophisticated conceptual framework to address it. Attempting to address this, the recent literature on the power of business has increasingly focused on the role of structure, agents and ideas. However, too little attention has been paid to how these concepts are defined and conceptualized. We argue that it is crucial to: specify the structures (economic/political/social) which we see as affecting the role of business; identify the agents, collective and individual, involved and how they interact; and specify which ideas are playing a role, at what level of generality and how these different ideas at different levels of generality interact. This article explores these issues through a critical consideration of the extant literature in order to provide a more developed framework for future empirical analysis.


Corresponding author

* Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra, Australia, e-mail:


Hide All
Akram, Sadiya. 2012. “Fully Unconscious and Prone to Habit: The Characteristics of Agency in the Structure and Agency Dialectic.” Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 43 (1): 4565.
Akram, Sadiya, Emerson, Guy, and Marsh, David. 2015. “The Faces of Power Argument Revisited; The Pre-Conscious as the Fourth Face of Power.” Mimeo, IGPA, University of Canberra, Available from .
Archer, Margaret. 1995. Realist Social Theory: The Morphogenetic Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Archer, Margaret. 2000. Being Human: The Problem of Agency. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Archer, Margaret. 2003. Structure, Agency and the Internal Conversation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Beetham, David. 2011. “Unelected Oligarchy: Corporate and Financial Dominance in Britain's Democracy.” Liverpool: Democratic Audit. Accessed April 22, 2015.
Bell, Stephen. 2011. “Do We Really Need a New ‘Constructivist Institutionalism’ to Explain Institutional Change?British Journal of Political Science 41 (4): 883906.
Bell, Stephen. 2012. “The Power of Ideas: The Ideational Mediation of the Structural Power of Business.” International Studies Quarterly 56 (4): 661673.
Bell, Stephen, and Hindmoor, Andy. 2014a. “Rethinking the Structural Power of Business: The Strange Case of the Australian Mining Tax.” New Political Economy 19 (3): 470486.
Bell, Stephen, and Hindmoor, Andy. 2014b. “The Ideational Shaping of State Power and Capacity: Wining Battles but Losing the War over Bank Reform in the US and UK.” Government and Opposition 49 (3): 342368.
Bell, Stephen, and Hindmoor, Andy. 2014c. “Taming the City? Ideas, Structural Power and the Evolution of British Banking Policy Amidst the Great Financial Meltdown.” New Political Economy 20 (3): 454474.
Bell, Stephen, and Hindmoor, Andy. 2015. “Masters of the Universe but Slaves of the Market: Bankers and the Great Financial Meltdown.” British Journal of Politics and International Relations 17 (1): 122.
Birkett, Holly, and Marsh, David. 2014. “Reconceptualising Class: Two Cheers for the Bourdieusian Turn.” Available from: .
Block, Fred. 1977. “The Ruling Class Does Not Rule.” Socialist Revolution 33 (May-June): 628.
Blyth, Mark. 2003. “Structures Do Not Come with Instruction Sheets: Interests, Ideas and Progress in Political Science.” Perspectives on Politics 1 (4): 696706.
Bo, Ernesto. 2006. “Regulatory Capture: A Review.” Oxford Review of Economic Policy 22 (2): 203225.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984. Distinction. London: RKP.
Culpepper, Pepper. 2011. Quiet Politics and Business Power: Corporate Control in Europe and Japan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Culpepper, Pepper, and Reinke, Raphael. 2014. “Structural Power and Bank Bailouts in the United Kingdom and the United States.” Politics and Society 42 (4): 128.
Emirbayer, Mustafa, and Mische, Ann. 1998. “What is Agency?American Journal of Sociology 103 (4): 9621023.
Fawcett, Paul, and Marsh, David. 2015. “Historical Institutionalism and Critical Realism.” Available from: .
Furlong, Paul and Marsh, David. 2010. “A Skin Not a Pullover: Ontology and Epistemology in Political Science.” In Theory and Methods in Political Science, edited by Marsh, D. and Stoker, G. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Giddens, Anthony. 1979. Central Problems in Social Theory. London: MacMillan.
Hay, Colin. 2002. Political Analysis. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Hindmoor, Andy, and McGeechan, Josh. 2013. “Luck, Systematic Luck and Business Power: Lucky All the Way Down or Trying Hard to get What it Wants without Trying.” Political Studies 61 (4): 834849.
Jessop, Bob. 1990. State Theory. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Johal, Sukhdev, Moran, Michael, and Williams, Karel. 2014. “Power, Politics and the City of London after the Great Financial Crisis.” Government and Opposition 49 (3): 400425.
Konings, Martijn. 2009. “The Construction of US Financial Power.” Review of International Studies 35 (1): 6994.
Lindblom, Charles. 1977. Politics and Markets. New York: Basic Books.
Lukes, Stephen. 1974 (2005). Power: A Radical View. 2nd ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Manley, John. 1983. “Neo-Pluralism: A Class Analysis of Pluralism I and Pluralism II.” American Political Science Review 77 (2): 368383.
Marsh, David. 1983. “Interest Group Activity and Structural Power: Lindblom's Politics and Markets .” West European Politics 6 (2): 313.
Marsh, David. 2009. “Keeping Ideas in their Place: In Praise of Thin Constructivism.” Australian Journal of Political Science 44 (4): 679696.
Marsh, David. 2010. “Meta-Theoretical Issues.” In Theory and Methods in Political Science, edited by Marsh, David and Stoker, Gerry. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Marsh, David, Lewis, Chris, and Chesters, Jenny. 2014. “The Political Power of Big Business: The Big Miners and the Mining Tax.” Australian Journal of Political Science 49 (4): 711725.
McAnulla, Stuart. 2002. “Structure and Agency.” In Theory and Methods in Political Science, edited by Marsh, David and Stoker, Gerry. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
McAnulla, Stuart. 2006. “Challenging the New Interpretivist Approach: Towards a Critical Realist Alternative.” British Politics 1: 113138.
Moran, Michael, and Payne, Anthony. 2014. “Introduction: Neglecting, Rediscovering and Thinking Again about Power in Finance.” Government and Opposition 49 (3): 331341.
Vogel, David. 1987. “Political Science and the Study of Corporate Power: A Dissent From the New Conventional Wisdom.” British Political Science 17 (4): 385408.
Vogel, David. 1989. Fluctuating Fortunes: The Political Power of Business in America. Basic Books: New York.
Ward, Hugh. 1987. “Structural Power – A Contradiction in Terms?Political Studies 35 (4): 593610.
Wood, Helen, and Skeggs, Beverly. 2004. “Notes on Ethical Scenarios of Self on British Reality TV.” Feminist Media Studies 4 (2): 205208.

The structural power of business: taking structure, agency and ideas seriously

  • David Marsh, Sadiya Akram (a1) and Holly Birkett (a2)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed