Recent work on authority, power and the state has opened up important avenues of inquiry into the practices and contexts through which power is exercised. Why certain forms of authority emerge as more durable and legitimate than others remains a challenge, however. In this article we bring together two bodies of thought to engage this issue, feminist theories of power and subjectivity and Bourdieu's ideas of symbolic violence, in order to explore how power and authority are reproduced and entrenched. Our purpose is to advance theorizing on power and authority in the context of contentious political situations and institutional emergence. This unusual theoretical synergy allows us to illustrate how power is exercised in relation to natural resource management and the ways in which the conflict/post-conflict context creates institutional forms and spaces which simultaneously challenge and reinforce antecedent forms of authority. To animate our theoretical concerns, we draw on work in community-based forestry in Nepal, with a focus on some of the conflicts that have arisen in relation to the valuable Sal forests of the Terai, or lowland plains.