What is Power Structure Research?

Power Structure Research is an analytical model that focuses on the durable institutions, structures, and systems of power rather than the specific individuals in power at any given moment is history. It emerged as a major model for investigative work by radical and progressive social and political movements in the tumultuous 1960s.

As an analytical model, it has roots in the work of Nelly Bly, George Seldes, and I.F. Stone. These and other muckraking reporters such researched and published numerous exposés.

Why use Power Structure Research? Because it helps to mobilize and educate people to challenge unequal power and privilege. Conspiracy theory, on the other hand, undermines movements for progressive social change; avoids challenging the structures, institutions, and systems of unfair power and oppression; and distracts attention away from the real culprits. Real social change requires hard work, not surreal Internet gossip.

Power Structure Research is the antidote to the self-aggrandizing conspiracy theorists polluting the Internet

Read more about the failures of conspiracy theory as an analytical model<

Power Structure Research acknowledges the role of individuals, but interrogates structures, institutions, and systems of unfair power and privilege maintained through interlocking networks.

The most complete online interactive set of information about the relationships between conservative and right-wing funders and political power in America is at the Bridge Project website, especially the section titled the Transparency Project. The Bridge Project website and its data section dubbed the Transparency project uses power structure research and network analysis.

Click here to visit the Funding Database

This extensive and very useful online database was originated by the tiny progressive Media Transparency project, now acquired by the mainstream liberal Bridge Project.

Power Structure Research

Here are the covers of some of the classics:

How Harvard Rules NACLA Who Rules America

Power Structure Research emerged in the turbulent 1960s to assist progressive and leftist activists in challenging unfair power and privilege. As an analytical model, it has roots in the work of muckraking reporters such as Nelly Bly, George Seldes, and I.F. Stone; the academic disciplines of sociology and political science; and forms of Marxist class analysis. Originally focusing on economic power and networks of ruling elites, Power Structure Research soon added studies of racial and gender hierarchies. The result today is a systematic form of analysis that sees unfair power and privilege based on race, gender, and class as inextricably woven together.

Much of the early work studying the conservative backlash against the 1960s and 1970s movements for social and economic justice was carried out in the 1970s and 1980s by progressive researchers such as Sara Diamond, Jean Hardisty, Russ Bellant, Fred Goff, Holly Sklar, G. William Domhoff, and others. Also, several organizations that pioneered studies of conservative power involved groups such as the Data Center, Political Research Associates, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, and others.

Power Structure Research Resources

Researchers with Guides for Doing Power Structure Research

G. William Domhoff

Val Burris: Internet Guide to Power Structure Research

More Resources

G. William Domhoff

Groups with Resources for Power Structure Research


Training Guides formerly at Data Center

An Introduction to Research Justice aims to build the capacity of grassroots organizers and community members and better equip marginalized communities to reclaim, own, and wield all forms of knowledge and information.

Data Feud is tool used to share statistics, survey results and quantitative data in a fun and engaging way.

Creating Surveys is a participatory research toolkit on how to do community surveys to support social justice campaigns.
Getting Public Records
Researching Corporations
Researching Individuals
High and Dry in the Smoggy Skies…? Overcoming the Challenges in Capturing Air Toxics 411! (2004)
Challenging the FTAA, NAFTA & the WTO: A Community Research Toolkit (2003)
It’s Your Right to Know: A Research Guide on Juvenile Justice in California (2003)

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How Organized Wealth Rules:
Elites, the State, and Blocking Progress

This Bibliography contains those works that discuss how conservative and right-wing countermovements work with elites and state actors to repress and block gains and demands made by labor, left, women’s, environmental, and gay groups in the United States. It’s just a partial list

Roots of Power Structure Research

The intellectual legacy of Power Structure Research traces to the analytical model created by Jean Jacques Rousseau in the mid 1700s. The theories and debates that flowed out of critiques and comparisons of the work of Rousseau with that of Karl Marx and Émile Durkheim in the 1800s essentially created the academic discipline of sociology. It draws elements from the academic disciplines of sociology and political science; and elements of Marxist class analysis. In the United States, major early theoreticians include C. Wright Mills and G. William Domhoff.

Muckraking journalists continue the tradition of speaking truth to power.

Groups, Organizations, Research Centers

An early and very influential group is the Highlander Research and Education Center founded in 1931.

In the 1960s individuals and groups on the Left began to publish structural analyses concerning:

  • Racial Inequality
  • Student Rights
  • Foreign Policy and Militarism
  • Economic and Social Class
  • Gender Inequality

Among influential early groups were:

NACLA, for example, published an influential Research and Methodology Guide

Power Structure Research flourished in the turbulent 1960s to assist progressive and leftist activists in challenging unfair power and privilege.

Originally focusing on economic power and networks of ruling elites, Power Structure Research soon added studies of racial and gender hierarchies. The result today is a systematic form of analysis that sees unfair power and privilege based on race, gender, and class as inextricably woven together.

Much of the early work studying the conservative backlash against the 1960s and 1970s movements for social and economic justice was carried out in the 1970s and 1980s by progressive researchers such as Sara Diamond, Jean Hardisty, Russ Bellant, Fred Goff, Holly Sklar, G. William Domhoff, and others.

Organizations that pioneered studies of conservative power involved groups such as the Data Center, Political Research Associates, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, and others.

The Myth of the Rob Stein Magical PowerPoint

The corporate media keeps repeating the ludicrous assertion that sometime in 2004 Democratic Party strategists finally figured out how the Political Right gained power in the United States by viewing the still secret Rob Stein Powerpoint.

The well-publicized fundraising slide show synthesized much earlier research by progressives. This cuts off the roots of power structure research in the struggles of progressive and left activists in the 1960s, with early publications such as How Harvard Rules.

The following section pays tribute to the researchers, analysts, journalists, and scholars, who from the mid 1970s forward, actually began developing the analysis and continue to provide public information on the rise of the right in the United States

Student Power Movement

How Harvard Rules

U.S. Foreign Policy

NACLA

Specific Models

  • Frankfurt School
  • Alinskyism – Industrial Areas Foundation
    • What’s Good, What’s Not
  • Midwest Academy
  • Social Movement Theory
  • Critical Race Theory
  • Critical Feminist Theory
  • Deep Ecology Theory
  • Critical Social Theory
  • Critical Legal Theory
  • Critical Queer Theory
  • Deep Ecology Theory
  • Libertarian Socialist Theory
  • Sociological Marxist Theory

 

Guides for Doing Power Structure Research

Val Burris: Internet Guide to Power Structure Research

More Resources

Authors Who Use Power Structure Research

C. Wright Mills

      • Mills, C. Wright, The Power Elite, New York: Oxford University Press, 1956.

G. William Domhoff

      • Domhoff, G. William, The Powers That Be: Processes of Ruling Class Domination in America, (New York: Vintage Books, 1979, [1978]);
      • Domhoff, G. William, Who Rules America Now: A View for the ‘80’s, (New York: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 1986, [1983])

Sara Diamond

  • Spiritual Warfare
  • Roads to Dominion, (1990)

Holly Sklar

      • Sklar, Holly (Ed.). (1980). Trilateralism: The Trilateral Commission and Elite Planning for World Management. Boston: South End Press.
      • Sklar, Holly. (1986). Reagan, Trilateralism and the Neoliberals: Containment and Intervention in the 1980s. Pamphlet No. 4. Boston: South End Press.
      • Sklar, Holly. (1995). Chaos or Community?: Seeking Solutions, Not Scapegoats for Bad Economics. Boston: South End Press.
      • Sklar, Holly. (1995). “The Dying American Dream and the Snake Oil of Scapegoating.” In Chip Berlet (Ed.), Eyes Right! Challenging the Right Wing Backlash (pp. 113–134). Boston: South End Press.

Pioneers

A Partial List

Organizations

Individual Researchers

  • Arnold Forster
  • Barbara Neuwirth
  • Benjamin R. Epstein
  • Bill Schaap
  • C. Wright Mills
  • Chip Berlet
  • Daniel Levitas
  • Doug Porter
  • Eda Gordon
  • Ellen Ray
  • Fred Clarkson
  • Fred Goff
  • G. William Domhoff
  • Gary Thomas
  • George Seldes
  • Gordon Hall
  • Grace Hoag
  • Harvey Kahn
  • Holly Sklar
  • I.F. Stone
  • Jean Hardisty
  • Jerome Himmelstein
  • Julie Brooks
  • K Barton Osborn
  • Kate Porterfield
  • Kathleen Blee
  • Leonard Zeskind
  • Loretta Ross
  • Lou Wolf
  • Margaret Quigley
  • Margaret van Houten
  • Michael Paul Rogin
  • Nikhil Aziz
  • Pam Chamberlain
  • Peggy Shinner
  • Richard Hofstadter
  • Russ Bellant
  • Sanho Tree
  • Sara Diamond
  • Sara Miles
  • Sasha Gregory Lewis
  • Steve Fanchuken
  • Suzanne Pharr
  • Tarso Ramos
  • Terry Allen
  • Tim Butz
  • Urvashi Vaid
  • Wes McCune
  • Winslow Peck (Perry Fellwok)

Some material first appeared on the website of
Political Research Associates