In the 1960s and 1970s the emergent domain of social history was marked by a reconceptualisation of the concept of power. The dimensions of power and its operations were no longer understood to be confined to elite institutions such as parliament, but extended to the relations and institutions of everyday life. In the process, social historical writing helped to redefine the notion of the political itself. Since this early phase a number of different conceptions of power have been utilised by social historians, including the Gramscian notion of hegemony and, more recently, the Foucauldian idea of governmentality. This article explores the theoretical implications of these concepts and looks at how ideas associated with governmentality in particular have been operationalised in recent historical writing, including the work of Mary Poovey and Patrick Joyce. In conclusion, the article identifies some of the problems arising from governmentality approaches and sketches briefly an alternative way of thinking about power centred on analysis of the body.