Power (social and political)

In social science and politics, power is the capacity of an individual to influence the conduct (behaviour) of others. The term "authority" is often used for power that is perceived as legitimate by the social structure. Power can be seen as evil or unjust. This sort of primitive exercise of power is historically endemic to humans; however, as social beings, the same concept is seen as good and as something inherited or given for exercising humanistic objectives that will help, move, and empower others as well.[1] In general, it is derived by the factors of interdependence between two entities and the environment. In business, the ethical instrumentality of power is achievement, and as such it is a zero-sum game. In simple terms it can be expressed as being "upward" or "downward". With downward power, a company's superior influences subordinates for attaining organizational goals. When a company exerts upward power, it is the subordinates who influence the decisions of their leader or leaders.[2]

The use of power need not involve force or the threat of force (coercion). On one side, it closely resembles what egalitarian and consensual nations (Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden) might term as "influence," contrasted with the extreme what some authors identify as "intimidation" in capitalist nations, a means by which power is used.[3] An example of using power without oppression is the concept "soft power," as compared to hard power.

Much of the recent sociological debate about power revolves around the issue of its means to enable – in other words, power as a means to make social actions possible as much as it may constrain or prevent them. The philosopher Michel Foucault saw power as a structural expression of "a complex strategic situation in a given social setting"[4] that requires both constraint and enablement.

Theories

Five bases

In a now-classic study (1959),[5] social psychologists John R. P. French and Bertram Raven developed a schema of sources of power by which to analyse how power plays work (or fail to work) in a specific relationship.

According to French and Raven, power must be distinguished from influence in the following way: power is that state of affairs which holds in a given relationship, A-B, such that a given influence attempt by A over B makes A's desired change in B more likely. Conceived this way, power is fundamentally relative – it depends on the specific understandings A and B each apply to their relationship, and requires B's recognition of a quality in A which would motivate B to change in the way A intends. A must draw on the 'base' or combination of bases of power appropriate to the relationship, to effect the desired outcome. Drawing on the wrong power base can have unintended effects, including a reduction in A's own power.

French and Raven argue that there are five significant categories of such qualities, while not excluding other minor categories. Further bases have since been adduced – in particular by Gareth Morgan in his 1986 book, Images of Organization.[6]

Legitimate power

Also called "positional power," legitimate power is the power of an individual because of the relative position and duties of the holder of the position within an organization. Legitimate power is formal authority delegated to the holder of the position. It is usually accompanied by various attributes of power such as a uniform, a title, or an imposing physical office.

Referent power

Referent power is the power or ability of individuals to attract others and build loyalty. It is based on the charisma and interpersonal skills of the power holder. A person may be admired because of specific personal trait, and this admiration creates the opportunity for interpersonal influence. Here the person under power desires to identify with these personal qualities, and gains satisfaction from being an accepted follower. Nationalism and patriotism count towards an intangible sort of referent power. For example, soldiers fight in wars to defend the honor of the country. This is the second least obvious power, but the most effective. Advertisers have long used the referent power of sports figures for products endorsements, for example. The charismatic appeal of the sports star supposedly leads to an acceptance of the endorsement, although the individual may have little real credibility outside the sports arena.[7] Abuse is possible when someone that is likable, yet lacks integrity and honesty, rises to power, placing them in a situation to gain personal advantage at the cost of the group's position. Referent power is unstable alone, and is not enough for a leader who wants longevity and respect. When combined with other sources of power, however, it can help a person achieve great success.

Expert power

Expert power is an individual's power deriving from the skills or expertise of the person and the organization's needs for those skills and expertise. Unlike the others, this type of power is usually highly specific and limited to the particular area in which the expert is trained and qualified. When they have knowledge and skills that enable them to understand a situation, suggest solutions, use solid judgment, and generally out perform others, then people tend to listen to them. When individuals demonstrate expertise, people tend to trust them and respect what they say. As subject matter experts, their ideas will have more value, and others will look to them for leadership in that area.

Reward power

Reward power depends on the ability of the power wielder to confer valued material rewards, it refers to the degree to which the individual can give others a reward of some kind such as benefits, time off, desired gifts, promotions or increases in pay or responsibility. This power is obvious but also ineffective if abused. People who abuse reward power can become pushy or be reprimanded for being too forthcoming or 'moving things too quickly'. If others expect to be rewarded for doing what someone wants, there's a high probability that they'll do it. The problem with this basis of power is that the rewarder may not have as much control over rewards as may be required. Supervisors rarely have complete control over salary increases, and managers often can't control promotions all by themselves. And even a CEO needs permission from the board of directors for some actions. So when somebody uses up available rewards, or the rewards don't have enough perceived value to others, their power weakens. (One of the frustrations of using rewards is that they often need to be bigger each time if they're to have the same motivational impact. Even then, if rewards are given frequently, people can become satiated by the reward, such that it loses its effectiveness).

Coercive power

Coercive power is the application of negative influences. It includes the ability to demote or to withhold other rewards. The desire for valued rewards or the fear of having them withheld that ensures the obedience of those under power. Coercive power tends to be the most obvious but least effective form of power as it builds resentment and resistance from the people who experience it. Threats and punishment are common tools of coercion. Implying or threatening that someone will be fired, demoted, denied privileges, or given undesirable assignments – these are characteristics of using coercive power. Extensive use of coercive power is rarely appropriate in an organizational setting, and relying on these forms of power alone will result in a very cold, impoverished style of leadership. This is a type of power is commonly seen in fashion industry by coupling with legitimate power, it is referred in the industry specific literature's as "glamorization of structural domination and exploitation."[8]

Principles in interpersonal relationships

According to Laura K. Guerrero and Peter A. Andersen in "Close encounters: Communication in Relationships":[9]

  1. Power as a Perception: Power is a perception in a sense that some people can have objective power, but still have trouble influencing others. People who use power cues and act powerfully and proactively tend to be perceived as powerful by others. Some people become influential even though they don't overtly use powerful behavior.
  2. Power as a Relational Concept: Power exists in relationships. The issue here is often how much relative power a person has in comparison to one's partner. Partners in close and satisfying relationships often influence each other at different times in various arenas.
  3. Power as Resource Based: Power usually represents a struggle over resources. The more scarce and valued resources are, the more intense and protracted are power struggles. The scarcity hypothesis indicates that people have the most power when the resources they possess are hard to come by or are in high demand. However, scarce resource leads to power only if it's valued within a relationship.
  4. The Principle of Least Interest and Dependence Power: The person with less to lose has greater power in the relationship. Dependence power indicates that those who are dependent on their relationship or partner are less powerful, especially if they know their partner is uncommitted and might leave them. According to interdependence theory, quality of alternatives refers to the types of relationships and opportunities people could have if they were not in their current relationship. The principle of least interest suggests that if a difference exists in the intensity of positive feelings between partners, the partner who feels the most positive is at a power disadvantage. There's an inverse relationship between interest in relationship and the degree of relational power.
  5. Power as Enabling or Disabling: Power can be enabling or disabling. Research[citation needed] has shown that people are more likely to have an enduring influence on others when they engage in dominant behavior that reflects social skill rather than intimidation. Personal power is protective against pressure and excessive influence by others and/or situational stress. People who communicate through self-confidence and expressive, composed behavior tend to be successful in achieving their goals and maintaining good relationships. Power can be disabling when it leads to destructive patterns of communication. This can lead to the chilling effect where the less powerful person often hesitates to communicate dissatisfaction, and the demand withdrawal pattern which is when one person makes demands and the other becomes defensive and withdraws(mawasha, 2006). Both effects have negative consequences for relational satisfaction.
  6. Power as a Prerogative: The prerogative principle states that the partner with more power can make and break the rules. Powerful people can violate norms, break relational rules, and manage interactions without as much penalty as powerless people. These actions may reinforce the powerful person's dependence power. In addition, the more powerful person has the prerogative to manage both verbal and nonverbal interactions. They can initiate conversations, change topics, interrupt others, initiate touch, and end discussions more easily than less powerful people. (See expressions of dominance.)

Rational choice framework

Game theory, with its foundations in the Walrasian theory of rational choice, is increasingly used in various disciplines to help analyze power relationships. One rational choice definition of power is given by Keith Dowding in his book Power.

In rational choice theory, human individuals or groups can be modelled as 'actors' who choose from a 'choice set' of possible actions in order to try to achieve desired outcomes. An actor's 'incentive structure' comprises (its beliefs about) the costs associated with different actions in the choice set, and the likelihoods that different actions will lead to desired outcomes.

In this setting we can differentiate between:

  1. outcome power – the ability of an actor to bring about or help bring about outcomes;
  2. social power – the ability of an actor to change the incentive structures of other actors in order to bring about outcomes.

This framework can be used to model a wide range of social interactions where actors have the ability to exert power over others. For example, a 'powerful' actor can take options away from another's choice set; can change the relative costs of actions; can change the likelihood that a given action will lead to a given outcome; or might simply change the other's beliefs about its incentive structure.

As with other models of power, this framework is neutral as to the use of 'coercion'. For example: a threat of violence can change the likely costs and benefits of different actions; so can a financial penalty in a 'voluntarily agreed' contract, or indeed a friendly offer.

Cultural hegemony

In the Marxist tradition, the Italian writer Antonio Gramsci elaborated the role of ideology in creating a cultural hegemony, which becomes a means of bolstering the power of capitalism and of the nation-state. Drawing on Niccolò Machiavelli in The Prince, and trying to understand why there had been no Communist revolution in Western Europe, while it was claimed there had been one in Russia, Gramsci conceptualised this hegemony as a centaur, consisting of two halves. The back end, the beast, represented the more classic, material image of power, power through coercion, through brute force, be it physical or economic. But the capitalist hegemony, he argued, depended even more strongly on the front end, the human face, which projected power through 'consent'. In Russia, this power was lacking, allowing for a revolution. However, in Western Europe, specifically in Italy, capitalism had succeeded in exercising consensual power, convincing the working classes that their interests were the same as those of capitalists. In this way, a revolution had been avoided.

While Gramsci stresses the significance of ideology in power structures, Marxist-feminist writers such as Michele Barrett stress the role of ideologies in extolling the virtues of family life. The classic argument to illustrate this point of view is the use of women as a 'reserve army of labour'. In wartime, it is accepted that women perform masculine tasks, while after the war the roles are easily reversed. Therefore, according to Barrett, the destruction of capitalist economic relations is necessary but not sufficient for the liberation of women.[10]

Tarnow

Tarnow[11] considers what power hijackers have over air plane passengers and draws similarities with power in the military. He shows that power over an individual can be amplified by the presence of a group. If the group conforms to the leader's commands, the leader's power over an individual is greatly enhanced while if the group does not conform the leader's power over an individual is nil.

Foucault

For Michel Foucault, the real power will always rely on the ignorance of its agents. No single human, group nor single actor runs the dispositif (machine or apparatus) but power is dispersed through the apparatus as efficiently and silently as possible, ensuring its agents to do whatever is necessary. It is because of this action that power is unlikely to be detected that it remains elusive to 'rational' investigation. Foucault quotes a text reputedly written by political economist Jean Baptiste Antoine Auget de Montyon, entitled Recherches et considérations sur la population de la France (1778), but turns out to be written by his secretary Jean-Baptise Moheau (1745–1794) and by emphasizing Biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck who constantly refers to milieus as a plural adjective and sees into the milieu as an expression as nothing more than water air and light confirming the genus within the milieu, in this case the human species, relates to a function of the population and its social and political interaction in which both form an artificial and natural milieu. This milieu (both artificial and natural) appears as a target of intervention for power according to Foucault which is radically different from the previous notions on sovereignty, territory and disciplinary space inter woven into from a social and political relations which function as a species (biological species).[12] Foucault originated and developed the concept of "docile bodies" in his book Discipline and Punish. He writes, "A body is docile that may be subjected, used, transformed and improved.[13]

Clegg

Stewart Clegg proposes another three-dimensional model with his "circuits of power"[14] theory. This model likens the production and organizing of power to an electric circuit board consisting of three distinct interacting circuits: episodic, dispositional, and facilitative. These circuits operate at three levels, two are macro and one is micro. The episodic circuit is the micro level and is constituted of irregular exercise of power as agents address feelings, communication, conflict, and resistance in day-to-day interrelations. The outcomes of the episodic circuit are both positive and negative. The dispositional circuit is constituted of macro level rules of practice and socially constructed meanings that inform member relations and legitimate authority. The facilitative circuit is constituted of macro level technology, environmental contingencies, job design, and networks, which empower or disempower and thus punish or reward, agency in the episodic circuit. All three independent circuits interact at "obligatory passage points" which are channels for empowerment or disempowerment.

Galbraith

JK Galbraith summarizes the types of power as being "condign" (based on force), "compensatory" (through the use of various resources) or "conditioned" (the result of persuasion), and their sources as "personality" (individuals), "property" (their material resources) and "organizational" (whoever sits at the top of an organisational power structure).[15]

Gene Sharp

Gene Sharp, an American professor of political science, believes that power depends ultimately on its bases. Thus a political regime maintains power because people accept and obey its dictates, laws and policies. Sharp cites the insight of Étienne de La Boétie.

Sharp's key theme is that power is not monolithic; that is, it does not derive from some intrinsic quality of those who are in power. For Sharp, political power, the power of any state – regardless of its particular structural organization – ultimately derives from the subjects of the state. His fundamental belief is that any power structure relies upon the subjects' obedience to the orders of the ruler(s). If subjects do not obey, leaders have no power.[16]

His work is thought to have been influential in the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic, in the 2011 Arab Spring, and other nonviolent revolutions.[17]

Björn Kraus

Björn Kraus deals with the epistemological perspective upon power regarding the question about possibilities of interpersonal influence by developing a special form of constructivism (named relational constructivism).[18] Instead of focussing on the valuation and distribution of power, he asks first and foremost what the term can describe at all.[19] Coming from Max Weber's definition of power,[20] he realizes that the term of power has to be split into "instructive power" and "destructive power".[21]:105[22]:126 More precisely, instructive power means the chance to determine the actions and thoughts of another person, whereas destructive power means the chance to diminish the opportunities of another person.[19] How significant this distinction really is, becomes evident by looking at the possibilities of rejecting power attempts: Rejecting instructive power is possible – rejecting destructive power is not. By using this distinction, proportions of power can be analyzed in a more sophisticated way, helping to sufficiently reflect on matters of responsibility.[22]:139 f. This perspective permits to get over an "either-or-position" (either there is power, or there isn't), which is common especially in epistemological discourses about power theories,[23][24][25] and to introduce the possibility of an "as well as-position".[22]:120

Steven Lukes [26]

Steven Lukes found the assumption about power is “that A in some way affects B” to be too broad because everyone is affecting others in countless manners.[27] In order to specify when a notion of power is significant in order to be useful for analysis the conception needs to be specified. A more specific conception of power that specifies when it is significant for analysis is when “A exercises power over B when A affects B in a manner contrary to B's interests”.[27] Note that a distinction can be made between B's real interests and B's subjective interests. This applies to situations where B does not express or even is not conscious of real interests. Admitted, it is difficult to ascertain what the real interests of B are. Only B can identify real interests under conditions of relative autonomy and independent of A's power.[27]

The first dimension of Lukes three-dimensional view of power focuses on observable behaviour where decisions are made over issues with an observable conflict of interest. This is akin to the definition Max Weber gave to power; “Power is the probability of individuals realizing their wills despite the resistance of others”.[27] This notion of power can be analysed fairly easy, because it focuses on observable data. It merely requires the analyst to take note of every successful attempt of A to “get B to do something that B would otherwise not do”.[27] However, this notion alone is too limited in various aspects. These shortcomings are addressed in the other two dimensions of Lukes view on power.

In the second dimension of Lukes view on power the behavioural aspect of the first dimension is critiqued. It asserts that B can be prevented by A from taking decisions on issues “over which there is an observable conflict of interests”.[27] The action where A suppresses B to voice an opinion is termed nondecision. One way nondecisionmaking can be achieved is if A engages in creating or reinforcing structural issues, such as social and political values and institutional practices, limiting the political process to only those issues that are in A's interest. This is akin to Elmer Eric Schattschneider statement that “organization is the mobilization of bias”.[27]

Nondecision-making can be achieved by controlling the political agenda, but it can also be achieved by securing the compliance of B through various means. These means are coercion, influence, authority, force, and manipulation. Coercion is understood as the threat of disambiguation needed]. Influence exists if A changes B's course of action without threat. Authority exists if B experiences A's command to be compatible with his own values, either because of legitimate and reasonable content or because it arrive through a legitimate and reasonable procedure. In the case of force A removes B's choice of compliance or noncompliance. Manipulation is an aspect of force, because compliance is gained absent B's recognition of the source or exact nature of A's demand.[27]

In both the first and second dimension of Lukes view on power there is a necessity for observable conflict between interests. This becomes problematic if A successfully suppresses B's voice to be heard. However, Lukes ascertains that although the interests of B are excluded from public attention and controversy, they can still be observed outside the political system by an investigator.[27]

The third dimension of Lukes view on power is addressing power where there appears to be an absence of conflict. This dimension has a more collectivist perspective on power, asserting that mobilization of bias is sustained by social and cultural behaviour of groups, and institutional practices. It recognizes that leaders are not only responding to preferences, but are also shaping them. Shaping preferences can be achieved by controlling information, and the processes of socialization. The absence of conflict is achieved, because A influences, shapes, or determines the perceptions, cognitions, and preferences of B. This can be done either through manipulation or legitimate authority.[27] This dimension appears to be similar to the concept of hegemony developed by Antonio Gramsci, which is power obtained through the manufacture of consent.[28] In the case of consent through manipulation there is still an absence of conflict, despite the decisions are going against B's real interests. This is because B's “perceptions, cognitions, and preferences are shaped in such a way that they accept their role in the existing order of things, either because they can see or imagine no alternative to it, or because they see it as natural and unchangeable, or because they value it as divinely ordained and beneficial”.[27] It is also possible that B gives consent through authority, even is the decisions are going against B's real interest. This can be explained if B values collective interests, or the individual interests of A, as being of higher importance than his own interests.[27]

The concept of inequality is understood as a difference of power between actors. This difference can be analysed by looking at differences between power resources that actors have available, can access, and are able to utilize. Power resources can exist in the form of capital, property rights, political influence, discursive resources, production and access to information, violence and force, authority, weapons of the weak (to be understood as every day resistance in the form of lifestyle choices. For example, consumption habits) and social category (gender, ethnicity, age, class, nationality). Inequality can arise among any or all of these power resources, directly affecting the power an actor has in relation to other actors. In turn the power an actor has can affect the power resources, creating a potential vicious or virtuous cycle. This suggests that increases or decreases in inequality do not always happen intentionally, but can be a result of such vicious or virtuous cycles.

Unmarked categories

The idea of unmarked categories originated in feminism. The theory analyzes the culture of the powerful. The powerful comprise those people in society with easy access to resources, those who can exercise power without considering their actions. For the powerful, their culture seems obvious; for the powerless, on the other hand, it remains out of reach, élite and expensive.

The unmarked category can form the identifying mark of the powerful. The unmarked category becomes the standard against which to measure everything else. For most Western readers, it is posited that if a protagonist's race is not indicated, it will be assumed by the reader that the protagonist is Caucasian; if a sexual identity is not indicated, it will be assumed by the reader that the protagonist is heterosexual; if the gender of a body is not indicated, will be assumed by the reader that it is male; if a disability is not indicated, it will be assumed by the reader that the protagonist is able bodied, just as a set of examples.

One can often overlook unmarked categories. Whiteness forms an unmarked category not commonly visible to the powerful, as they often fall within this category. The unmarked category becomes the norm, with the other categories relegated to deviant status. Social groups can apply this view of power to race, gender, and disability without modification: the able body is the neutral body.

Counterpower

The term 'counter-power' (sometimes written 'counterpower') is used in a range of situations to describe the countervailing force that can be utilised by the oppressed to counterbalance or erode the power of elites. A general definition has been provided by the anthropologist David Graeber as 'a collection of social institutions set in opposition to the state and capital: from self-governing communities to radical labor unions to popular militias'.[29] Graeber also notes that counter-power can also be referred to as 'anti-power' and 'when institutions [of counter-power] maintain themselves in the face of the state, this is usually referred to as a 'dual power' situation'.[29] Tim Gee, in his 2011 book Counterpower: Making Change Happen,[30] put forward a theory that those disempowered by governments' and elite groups' power can use counterpower to counter this.[31] In Gee's model, counterpower is split into three categories: idea counterpower, economic counterpower, and physical counterpower.[30]

Although the term has come to prominence through its use by participants in the global justice/anti-globalization movement of the 1990s onwards,[32] the word has been used for at least 60 years; for instance Martin Buber's 1949 book 'Paths in Utopia' includes the line 'Power abdicates only under the stress of counter-power'.[33][34]:13

Other theories

  • Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) defined power as a man's "present means, to obtain some future apparent good" (Leviathan, Ch. 10).
  • The thought of Friedrich Nietzsche underlies much 20th century analysis of power. Nietzsche disseminated ideas on the "will to power," which he saw as the domination of other humans as much as the exercise of control over one's environment.
  • Some schools of psychology, notably that associated with Alfred Adler, place power dynamics at the core of their theory (where orthodox Freudians might place sexuality).