In Conversation with Stewart Clegg

In Conversation with Stewart Clegg

Welcome to another episode of our “In Conversation with Sage Author” series featuring none other than the brilliant Professor Stewart Clegg, author of the highly anticipated 2nd edition of Frameworks of Power.

Join us as we dive deep into Professor Clegg’s background, exploring the driving forces behind his remarkable work. Discover the inspiration and challenges that shaped the creation of this new edition, as he shares fascinating anecdotes of the book’s positive impact on readers.

But that’s not all! As a bonus treat, we couldn’t resist asking Professor Clegg about his insights into the future of the textbook industry. Without further ado, let’s dive in!

Can you tell us about yourself and your background?

I was born in Bradford, Yorkshire, and grew up not far away in a mill town, called Elland, an only child of Mum and Dad. Mum was a housewife and Dad was a commercial traveller, who represented Standard Fireworks. I went to Elland Grammar School and from there to Aston University, in Birmingham, the first person in our family ever educated beyond the age of 15. University was a leap into the unknown. 

At Aston, I did a B.Sc. (Hons) in Behavioural Science (Sociology).  On graduating, I enrolled to do a Ph.D. at Bradford University on ‘Power in Organizations’. Upon graduation, the thesis was published as a book on Power, Rule and Domination (1975). Shortly thereafter I accepted an EGOS Post-doctoral Fellowship after which I migrated to Brisbane, Australia to join the new Griffith University School of Humanities in 1976.

Subsequently, I have been a Professor of Sociology at the University of New England (UNE), Armidale; Professor of Organization Studies at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland; Foundation Professor of Management at the University of Western Sydney, back in Australia; Professor at the University of Technology (UTS) Sydney Business School before becoming Professor of Project Management at the University of Sydney.  

In all these moves I have shared my life with my wife; together we have two sons, and three grandchildren, who are a source of great joy. When I am not writing I enjoy gardening, – composting, planting, tidying, etc. When I am writing I usually have some jazz or baroque music playing gently in the background; indeed, once upon a time, for a year or two, I used to be a jazz announcer on a local radio station in Brisbane.

During these shifts in jobs, I published a great many books, chapters, and journal articles but the most important book that I have written is probably Frameworks of Power. The reason I think it is the most important is that it is the most cited, with over 5,000 citations spread across a very broad transdisciplinary field. I like the fact that it has changed a lot of people’s views about how to understand power relations across so many fields.

What inspired you to write “Frameworks of Power”?

I was teaching two courses at UNE, one on the Sociology of Power and Conflict, and another on the Sociology of the State.  Related to this I wrote a paper called ‘Radical Revisions’ in Organization Studies that related to some new directions in my thinking. I thought that I could write a book, using some of these ideas, as well as drawing on what I had prepared for the classroom. I was also inspired by sharing my ideas at a seminar with some illustrious figures in the field who clearly didn’t appreciate what I was doing and made this clear by hardly acknowledging the presentation; this also inspired me to make a difference. I thought that their lack of understanding was symptomatic of the limits of very orthodox understanding that I wanted to challenge and do so in such a way that the contribution could not be ignored.

I approached writing the book through a historical understanding of the emergence of debates, a genealogical approach. Central to the work was an intellectual puzzle: where did Foucault’s ideas about power fit into the histories I knew? Reading Machiavelli cracked the puzzle; I realized that the dominant causal and behavioural-oriented view of power was not the whole story. I like to connect things, to create patterns.

I had long been asked by Sage to do a 2nd edition, but the time available always filled up with many other things, including Power and Organizations, where I tried not to repeat what I has written in Frameworks. In 2022, during Covid-19 and lockdown, I was asked to do a virtual seminar. The ideas that went into that proved to be the inspiration for the major new chapter on ‘A history of the present’. The 2nd edition, delayed by over 30 years, was done.

I reread the book, not having looked at it in any detail for many years and I did not see any reason to change the views expressed there. I still think I got things right. I tidied up one or two minor things, wrote a new introduction, and updated some of the examples in the text that had aged. 

What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?

Nothing really, except that I switched from writing with a tub of 2B pencils to using a departmental early Apple computer. We only had one and I used to drive it home after the day’s work and at the weekend. Learning how to use that was a slight challenge. It used floppy discs; one for the software, and one to save each chapter on. The book itself was not so difficult; I had been thinking about the issues in it from the time of doing the Ph.D. and I had collated great many index cards that correlated with photocopies I had collected over the years of doing the Ph.D. and writing subsequent things, including another book on power. That was another challenge; I didn’t want to repeat myself – and I don’t think that I did.

Can you share any stories about how this book has made a positive impact on the readers, students, or instructors?

Many people have read the book and contacted me, asking me to write with them, which I often do if the topic looks interesting. I was delighted to see that the book seemed to gain traction in so many different fields; sociology, organization studies, strategy, management, accounting, information systems, history, political theory, and political science, as well as in many applied fields such as nursing, education, and project management. The single figure in the book, the model of circuits of power, seems to have made the most impact. A good picture is worth many thousands of words! The inspiration for the Figure arose from my love of music, which meant that I was very familiar with circuit diagrams from the stereo systems I bought. When I was using a MacDraw program on a computer, while a visitor at the University of Otago, I tried to work out some ideas graphically; the results looked a bit like a circuit diagram; hence ‘circuits of power’.

For the new edition, I wanted to show how the ideas developed could be useful for understanding contemporary issues; hence the focus on Covid-19, climate change, the war in Ukraine, and policy ideas to assist the transition to a more sustainable future. Power is the most fundamental concept of the social sciences as all human endeavour involves power relations; to understand power relations we require a theory; the ‘circuits of power’ framework provides a flexible, useful, and by now the well-regarded framework for such theoretical work. This is why, I think, it has been used in so many disciplinary and interdisciplinary applications. It works.

How do you see the academic textbook industry evolving in the future, and what kind of changes do you think are necessary to meet the evolving needs of students and instructors?

The books seem to be getting less academic, more user-friendly, and less demanding for the reader which is a gain but also a loss. With many more people being educated in tertiary systems these days with a broader range of abilities and non-native facilities in the English language, these trends are hardly likely to diminish.  However, writing for a student for whom English may not be a first language and whose interests are less in ideas and more in practical things, such as achieving a credential to get a job, means a loss of an older style of book, one that was both accessible and a little challenging. Framework of Power, I think, was not initially written for these times but for times when higher-level students would enjoy being challenged. I have, nonetheless, learnt to write in different ways over the years, in terms of prose style, in my several textbooks for Sage, such as Managing and Organizations, Strategy: Theory and Practice and Project Management: A Value Creation Approach. I hope that the new material in the book reflects this learning about writing.

For the future, the options are huge and open. Natural Language Processing models will probably need to be integrated into textbooks in some ways; how this may be, I am not sure, but I am eager to find out.

Find out more about Professor Clegg’s Frameworks of Power and his other bestselling books

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