Analytical frames for studying power in strategy as practice and beyond

Publisher:
Cambridge University Press
Publication Type:
Chapter
Citation:
Cambridge Handbook of Strategy as Practice, Second Edition, 2015, 2nd Edition, pp. 389 - 404
Issue Date:
2015-01-01
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This chapter provides a systematic reflection on how power can be used as an analytical framework to study strategy. Such an endeavour faces the difficulty of having to deal with two rather large bookshelves: one collects those authors who share a concern with power, albeit that they might not use the term ‘strategy’; on the other shelves, the writers on strategy often tend to have a more implicit than explicit interest in theories of power. To make things even more difficult, the two bookshelves are usually placed in different parts of libraries. Philosophers, sociologists, political scientists, organization theorists and others may well be interested in power but business school professors study strategy in overwhelmingly economic terms with competition conceived as warfare by other means. It is ironical that, for all the forceful imagery of strategy writing, often drawing on military metaphors, there is a dearth of explicit accounts of power relations and strategy. The irony attaches to the fact that strategy is so consciously aimed at changing power relations – in the market, in the organization, or vis-à-vis government regulators; it speaks of ‘forces’ and (value) ‘chains’, of competition and advantages, but, strangely, it neglects issues of power. We find Lawrence Freedman's introductory quote one of the most apt definitions of strategy, as it alludes to the important fact that power is dynamically created in specific contexts, and that it is power that makes it possible to accomplish an objective. For Freedman (2013), strategy is the ‘central political art’, as it is concerned with getting more out of a situation than the balance of power would initially suggest. It is in this sense that strategy is concerned with the creation of power. Perhaps it is telling that Freedman is a professor of war studies (and thus his books are located on yet another shelf in the libraries).
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