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Sociologists usually define power as the ability to impose one's will on others, even if those others resist in some way.
- "By power is meant that opportunity existing within a social [relationship] which permits one to carry out one's own will even against resistance and regardless of the basis on which this opportunity rests."
- Max Weber, Basic Concepts in Sociology
The imposition need not involve coercion (force or threat of force). Thus "power" in the sociological sense subsumes both physical power and political power, including many of the types listed at power. In some ways it more closely resembles what everyday English-speakers call "influence".
More generally, one could define "power" as the more or less unilateral ability (real or perceived) or potential to bring about significant change, usually in people’s lives, through the actions of oneself or of others.
The laws of power are an interpretation of evolution, used by individuals, with the goal to let an individual evolve to the highest level of comfort he can attain in his social setting.
The exercise of power seems endemic to humans as social and gregarious beings.
The Spanish word for power is "poder", and the French word is "pouvoir". Both words mean "to be able," and this meaning reflects on the meaning of the English word "power". A second French word is "puissance", which means more potential or virtual power, a capacity of, while "pouvoir" would be actualized "puissance".
Analysis and operation of powerEdit
Power manifests itself in a relational manner: one cannot meaningfully say that a particular social actor "has power" without also specifying the other parties to the social relationship.
Power almost always operates reciprocally, but usually not equally reciprocally. To control others, one must have control over things that they desire or need, but one can rarely exercise that control without a measure of reverse control - larger, smaller or equal - also existing. For example, an employer usually wields considerable power over his workers because he has control over wages, working conditions, hiring and firing. The workers, however, hold some reciprocal power: they may leave, work more or less diligently, group together to form a union, and so on.
Because power operates both relationally and reciprocally, sociologists speak of the balance of power between parties to a relationship: all parties to all relationships have some power: the sociological examination of power concerns itself with discovering and describing the relative strengths: equal or unequal, stable or subject to periodic change. Sociologists usually analyse relationships in which the parties have relatively equal or nearly equal power in terms of constraint rather than of power. Thus 'power' has a connotation of unilateralism. If this were not so, then all relationships could be described in terms of 'power', and its meaning would be lost.
Even in structuralist social theory, power appears as a process, an aspect to an ongoing social relationship, not as a fixed part of social structure.
One can sometimes distinguish primary power: the direct and personal use of force for coercion; and secondary power, which may involve the threat of force or social constraint, most likely involving third-party exercisers of delegated power.
Types and sources of powerEdit
Power may be held through:
- Delegated authority (for example in the democratic process)
- Social class
- Personal or group charisma
- Ascribed power (acting on perceived or assumed abilities, whether these bear testing or not)
- Expertise (Ability, Skills) (the power of medicine to bring about health; another famous example would be "in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king")
- Persuasion (direct, indirect, or subliminal)
- Knowledge (granted or withheld, shared or kept secret)
- Money (financial influence, control of labour, control through ownership, etc)
- Force (violence, military might, coercion).
- Moral suasion (possibly including religion)
- Application of non-violence
- Operation of group dynamics (such as the science of public relations)
- Social influence of tradition (compare ascribed power)
- In relationships; domination/submissiveness
JK Galbraith summarises 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". (Galbraith, An Anatomy of Power)
- Aldrich, Robert and Wotherspoon, Gary (Eds.) (2001). Who's Who in Contemporary Gay & Lesbian History: From World War II to the Present Day. New York: Routledge. ISBN 041522974X.
- Clastres, Pierre, Society against the State, 1974
- Dowding, Keith (1996). Power. University of Minnesota Press.
- Tarnow, Eugen (2000). A quantitative model of the amplification of power through order and the concept of group defense. http://cogprints.org/4275/
- 5 Ways to be Influential Article is on a Canadian political site.
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