Home >> Socio Short Notes >> The Nature of Social Power

The Nature of Social Power

 

Power implies the ability of an individual or a group to influence or change the behavior of other individuals or groups. Robert Dahl defined power as subject of relations among social units such that the behavior of one or more units depends in some circumstances on the behavior of the other units. The Statement A has power over B would mean A’s behavior causes B’s behavior. The most classic definition of power was given by Max Weber who defined power as the chance of man or a number of men to realize their own will in a communal action even against the resistance of others who are participating in the action. Power is essentially an aspect of social relationships. An individual or a group does not hold power in isolation. Power enters every aspect of social life. It extends from parents assigning domestic chores to their children, to teachers to enforce discipline in the classroom, from managers organizing his work force to a political party enacting legislation. In each case an individual or group have power to the degree to which others comply with their will. To say that power is relational is also to imply it is behavioral. If power consists in an inter relationship between two actors, then that inter relationship can only be understood in terms of one actor’s manifest behavior as affecting the manifest behavior of others. Further power is also situational. To know power, one must relate to a specific situation or a specific role and an actor’s power in one situation or role may vary from that in another. Weber’s concept of power implies that those who hold power do so at the expense of others. It suggests that there is a fixed amount of power and therefore if some hold power, others do not. This view is known as constant sum concept of power. Since the amount of power is constant, power is held by an individual or a group to the extent that it is not held by others. Weber’s definition also implies that the power holders will tend to use  power to further their own interest. Thus, power is seen to further the sectional interests of those power holder which are in conflict with the interests of those subjects to the power. Thus, use of power is seen mainly for the exploitation and oppression of some by others. From functional perspective, Talcott Parsons rejects the constant sum concept of power and the view that power is employed in the furtherance of sectional interests. Rather than seeing power as something which some hold at the expense of others, Parsons regards it as something possessed by the society. For Parsons, power is generalized facility or resource in the society. The underlaying reason for the differences in Weber’s and Parson’s conception of power is to be seen in their basic assumption that value consensus is essential for the survival of a social system. According to Parsons from shared values are derived collective goals which are shared by all the members of the society. On the other hand, Weber views society as consisting of multiplicity of groups with conflicting interests. Parson’s view of power differentiates within the society also derives from his general theory. Unequal distribution of power is seen simply as a means towards furtherance of collectively shared goals. To realize the collective goals cooperation among the members of the society is essential. Cooperation on a large scale requires organization and direction which necessities position of commands. Some are therefore granted the power to direct others. This power takes the form of authority which is regarded as legitimate since it helps in the achievement of collective goals.

 

Power implies the ability of an individual or a group to influence or change the behavior of other individuals or groups. Robert Dahl defined power as subject of relations among social units such that the behavior of one or more units depends in some circumstances on the behavior of the other units. The Statement A has power over B would mean A’s behavior causes B’s behavior. The most classic definition of power was given by Max Weber who defined power as the chance of man or a number of men to realize their own will in a communal action even against the resistance of others who are participating in the action. Power is essentially an aspect of social relationships. An individual or a group does not hold power in isolation. Power enters every aspect of social life. It extends from parents assigning domestic chores to their children, to teachers to enforce discipline in the classroom, from managers organizing his work force to a political party enacting legislation. In each case an individual or group have power to the degree to which others comply with their will. To say that power is relational is also to imply it is behavioral. If power consists in an inter relationship between two actors, then that inter relationship can only be understood in terms of one actor’s manifest behavior as affecting the manifest behavior of others. Further power is also situational. To know power, one must relate to a specific situation or a specific role and an actor’s power in one situation or role may vary from that in another. Weber’s concept of power implies that those who hold power do so at the expense of others. It suggests that there is a fixed amount of power and therefore if some hold power, others do not. This view is known as constant sum concept of power. Since the amount of power is constant, power is held by an individual or a group to the extent that it is not held by others. Weber’s definition also implies that the power holders will tend to use  power to further their own interest. Thus, power is seen to further the sectional interests of those power holder which are in conflict with the interests of those subjects to the power. Thus, use of power is seen mainly for the exploitation and oppression of some by others. From functional perspective, Talcott Parsons rejects the constant sum concept of power and the view that power is employed in the furtherance of sectional interests. Rather than seeing power as something which some hold at the expense of others, Parsons regards it as something possessed by the society. For Parsons, power is generalized facility or resource in the society. The underlaying reason for the differences in Weber’s and Parson’s conception of power is to be seen in their basic assumption that value consensus is essential for the survival of a social system. According to Parsons from shared values are derived collective goals which are shared by all the members of the society. On the other hand, Weber views society as consisting of multiplicity of groups with conflicting interests. Parson’s view of power differentiates within the society also derives from his general theory. Unequal distribution of power is seen simply as a means towards furtherance of collectively shared goals. To realize the collective goals cooperation among the members of the society is essential. Cooperation on a large scale requires organization and direction which necessities position of commands. Some are therefore granted the power to direct others. This power takes the form of authority which is regarded as legitimate since it helps in the achievement of collective goals.

Emagzine