The term “power” is highly ambiguous. In one signification, power can refer to the capacities of an entity; to what that entity can do. Water has the power or capacity to freeze, be liquid, or be gaseous. Plutonium has the power to release tremendous amounts of energy. A gymnast has the power to do a flip from a standing position and do extraordinary movements on bars. A bloodhound has the power to detect a tremendous number of scents and even correlate them with how recently they occurred. If we follow Spinoza (and Deleuze), the power of a thing is its affects. Affects come in two varieties: passive and active. The passive affects– what we normally refer to as senses and emotions –are capacities to be affects, as in the case of vision where we are affected by light within a certain spectrum. The active affects are the capacity to do, as in the case of a cat leaping on a counter-top. The analysis of an entity, the understanding of an entity, consists in the analysis of its affects or powers. To know something is to know how it can affect and be affected. We can refer to this form of power as ontological power.
In another signification, power refers to something an agent has. Regardless of what Latour and his followers might suggest, not all beings are agents. Rocks, for example, are not agents; and this for no other reason than the fact that rocks lack self-directedness or the capacity to act on their own. To be sure, rocks might contribute to the agency of an agent, as in the case of a soldier that has stones and a sling where, to use McLuhan’s expression, his hand is “extended”, but it is not here the rock that is the agent. When we speak of an agent having power– whether it be a dolphin, chimpanzee, human, or something else besides –we are speaking of the power to influence and control others. For example, the general has the power to give orders and, more often than naught, those orders are followed. She has power over those that are subordinate to her. We can refer to this form of power as sovereign power.