Power in Modernity: Agency Relations and the Creative Destruction of the King's Two Bodies

Newly available from University of Chicago Press…Power in Modernity: Agency Relations and the Creative Destruction of the King’s Two Bodies


Margaret R. Somers, University of Michigan: “Power in Modernity is a startlingly original meditation on the meaning, morality, and madness of modern power. To explain the workings—and the violence—of ‘chains of power,’ Reed evokes the traces of the medieval trope by which the sacred and enduring authority of the king’s body politic overdetermined the king’s profane and mortal body. Following the new template of power brought to life with the overthrow of the ‘King’s Two Bodies,’ Reed leads us on a journey—from the Salem witch trials to the Whiskey Rebellion, from the French Revolution to ‘the edge of empire’—that leaves you breathless from the revelations and rebellions encountered along the way. In this unparalleled work of social theory, Reed has produced a masterpiece. But fair warning: Prepare to have your mind blown!”

Orlando Patterson, Harvard University: “This exiting and innovative work breaks new ground in the study of power and modernity. Reed offers a new vocabulary and a historically informed theory of the relations of power that enriches, and in important ways goes beyond, the classic accounts of Lukes, Bourdieu, Foucault and Mann, one that emphasizes the forces of exclusion as much as inclusion in the struggle for recognition and redistribution. His interpretation of the transition to modernity as the agonistic replacement of the symbolic power of the King’s second body with the body of the people as the ultimate source of unity and authority in the political culture of the West is as compelling as it is original. A major push against the presentist complacency of contemporary sociology, the work articulates new directions in both social theory and historical sociology.”

Andrew Perrin, University of North Carolina: “What is power, how does it work, and where does it come from? These urgent questions are at the heart of social theory’s contribution to empirical research and critique. Reed’s meticulous argumentation and breathtaking range make this book the indispensable synthesis for understanding power in society, history, and theory. He treats each example with subtle care while still leveraging the comparative power of very different cases. The tight prose leaves room neither for wasted words nor for sloppy ideas.”