Michael Mann seeks to explain the nature of power and its effects on the development of the state. His work has had a considerable impact within the field of macro-historical sociology, but has primarily been applied to Western case studies. This article builds upon an emerging literature that considers the expediency of using this lens to examine developing countries. It analyzes how the framework of social power can be used to provide a historical analysis of the reach, origins and effects of state power within developing countries. Through a consideration of Mann’s historiography, the article demonstrates the value of his social power framework for development theory.