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Christopher Powell

Dr. Christopher Powell

Associate Professor
EducationBA (University of Toronto, Sociology and Political Science), MA (Carleton University, Sociology), PhD (Carleton University, Sociology)
Phone416-979-5000 x557202

In a social struggle, any particular work of social science inevitably favours one side or another, depending on what it reveals and to whom.

Christopher Powell, Barbaric Civilization

Dr. Powell is on leave in the Fall 2023 term.

Areas of Expertise:

complex systems theory; relational sociology; social transformation; sociological theory; genocide studies


I study the emergent forces generated by complex social systems, and the egalitarian or inegalitarian effects of these forces. 

In the first part of my career I worked in the field of genocide studies, looking at how genocide results from normal systemic features of modern societies. For this work I drew on classical systems thinkers like Marx and Parsons, as well as other relational theorists like Elias, Foucault, Bourdieu, and Dorothy Smith. 

Recently I’ve left genocide studies to focus on radical projects of social transformation, from distributed-network models of social movement organizing (Occupy, Idle No More, Black Lives Matter) to worker co-ops (the Mondragon Corporation) to participatory budgeting (the Porto Alegre model) and others. I plan to analyze the mechanisms of egalitarian collective decision making using tools from systems thinking (Donella Meadows), general systems theory (Ludwig von Bertalanffy), and complex systems theory (e.g. Hartmut Bossel, Stefan Thurner, etc.). 

I’m aiming to use these theories to produce analyses and tools that would aid social movement actors in extending the scope and effectiveness of radically democratic collective action.

Website: (external link, opens in new window) 


  • SOC 107: Sociology of the Everyday
  • SOC 473: Classical Sociological Theory
  • SOC 475: Contemporary Sociological Theory
  • SOC 507: Race and Ethnicity in Canadian Society
  • ACS 400: Ideas that Shape the World: Modernity (co-taught)

Graduate Program Membership:

  • Communication & Culture

Recent & Selected Publications:

Powell, C. 2023. Radical Complexity: Using Concepts From Complex Systems Theory to Think About Socialist Transformation. New Proposals: Journal of Marxism and Interdisciplinary Inquiry (external link, opens in new window)  13(1).

Powell, C. 2022. “Transforming Sociological Theory” in Reading Sociology: Decolonizing Canada, (external link, opens in new window)  4th ed. (pp. 44-49), edited by J. Jean-Pierre, V. Watts, C.E. James, P. Albanese, X. Chen and M. Graydon. Toronto: Oxford University Press Canada.

Powell, C. and P. Strongblood. 2021. “Framing sociological inquiry: Theoretical traditions and developments” (Chapter 2) in Committing Sociology: Critical Perspectives On Our Social World, (external link, opens in new window)  edited by S. Knudson and D. Hahn. Toronto: Pearson Canada.

Powell, C. 2018. Presentation: A pragmatic approach to understanding sociologists’ differing views on Value‐Neutrality. (external link, opens in new window)  Canadian Review of Sociology/Revue Canadienne De Sociologie 55(2): 298-301.

Powell, C. 2018. “Genocide” (Chapter 11) (external link, opens in new window)  in Cambridge Handbook of Social Problems, edited by J. Trevino. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Powell, C. 2017. A Pragmatic Approach to Understanding Sociologists’ Differing Views on Value-Neutrality. (external link, opens in new window)  Canadian Review of Sociology 55(2): 298-324.

Powell, C. 2017. “Anti-genocide” in Last Lectures on the Prevention and Intervention of Genocide (external link, opens in new window)  (pp. 268-83), edited by S. Totten. New York: Routledge. 

Powell, C. 2016. Revitalizing the Ethnosphere: Global Society, Ethnodiversity, and the Stakes of Cultural Genocide. (external link, opens in new window)  Genocide Studies and Prevention 10(1): 44-59.

Powell C. and A. Amarasingam. 2016. “Atrocity and Proto-Genocide in Sri Lanka” in Understanding Atrocities: Remembering, Representing, and Teaching Genocide (external link, opens in new window)  (pp. 19-48), edited by S. Murray. Calgary: University of Calgary Press. 

Powell, C. 2015. “Transcendence or Struggle: Top-Down and Bottom-Up Narratives of Human Rights” in The Idea of a Human Rights Museum (external link, opens in new window)  (pp. 128-144), edited by A. Muller, K. Busby and A. Woolford. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press. 

Powell, C. and J. Peristerakis. 2014. “Genocide in Canada: A Relational View” in Colonial Genocide and Indigenous North America (external link) , edited by A. Woolford, J. Benvenuto, and A.L. Hinton. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Powell, C. 2013. “Radical Relationism: A Proposal” in Conceptualizing Relational Sociology: Ontological and Theoretical Issues (external link, opens in new window)  (pp. 187-207), edited by F. Dépelteau and C. Powell. New York: Palgrave.


Relational Sociology International Online Seminar with Christopher Powell presenting Radical Relationism Redux (Canadian Sociological Association, October 21, 2022)