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Sociological theories of Power and Power Elite

Power is the ability of individuals or groups to carry out their will even when opposed by others. It implies that those who hold power do so at the cost of others. Power refers to the ability to control others and it may reside in an individual’s status or position in relation to the status and position of the other individuals. According to Weber, power is the chance of men to realize their own will in a communal action even against the will of others who are participating in a social action.

Weber has seen power as a constant sum game in which one exercises power at the expense of the other. Power in a system is constant and hence it is limited in quantum. When one person or group exercises it, others have to relinquish some of their powers. He described three bases of power as traditional, charisma and legal rational.

Functionalists see power rested with society and as a variable sum game. They argue that as collective welfare increases in society, amount of power held by the society also increases. Power is not possessed by individuals but by society. According to Parsons since it is very difficult for society to exercise power by itself, social positions are created which are functionally more important and power is exercised through them

Marxists see power not in the form of authority but in the form of coercion of the haves over the have-nots. It is not a societal resource as claimed by functionalists held in trust by those in authority but is rather used as a tool by the dominant groups to subdue the commoners. Source of power is economic infrastructure but it extends beyond economic infrastructure to all other aspects of life as well.

Elite theories broadly fall in two categories that are classical elite theories and pluralistic elite theories. Mosca, Pareto and CW Wills fall under the classical elite theorists. Karl Mannheim, Anthony Downs and Robert Dahl are from pluralist tradition.

Michael Mann identifies multiple bases of power in terms of overlapping socio spatial networks of power. He views power as the ability to pursue and attain goals through mastery of the environment. Individuals as well as collectivities that are called distributional and collective power respectively hold power. The ways such power are exercised are classified as extensive power, i.e the reach of power and the intensive power i.e impact of the power. When such power is manifested and is deliberately followed it is called authoritative power.If it is subtle  and spontaneous it is termed as diffused power.