Skip to main content
Social Sci LibreTexts

11.5: Power

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    The measure of a person's ability to control the environment around them including the behavior of other people. If a human being's environment includes citizens then their power is measured by how much control they have over the masses.

    Types of Power

    1. Money

    Money, in many countries, is the foremost source of power. Those that are more wealthy can often use it as power by using their wealth to their own benefit or to the benefit of their community. Today there are over 178 currencies in use (CIA World Factbook), with most countries using the currency they produce themselves. Money in any form of currency can be exchanged for other types of currency, thus making the power of money worldwide. This tool also has the power to determine the monetary status of certain countries. Depending on how much money is in circulation, the value of that country's money either goes up or down. If there is a lot of money, the value of that country's coin would be a lot less than if there wasn't as much money in circulation. This can influence the exchange rate between countries, making tourists more or less likely to travel there, based on how expensive that country is. In extreme cases, hyperinflation can breakdown a nations monetary system, as seen in Germany during 1923 when hyperinflation got so high that prices were raised by 2500%.

    Money can also be used to help persuade politics in a country. In the United States, Super PACs are legal, which allows companies and unions, even sometimes individuals, to anonymously donate as much money as they want to politicians.

    2. Social Class

    Social class is the hierarchy among members of a society. Often people are born into it, or it is gained through money, education, or career. In some cultures people must stay within their social class through life (ascribed status), and in other cultures it is allowable or even respected if people work their way up the social ladder (achieved status). The class a person belongs to is often associated with an identity or subculture within society. People of a higher class associate and have similar lives as people within that class, and the same goes for people of the lower or middle classes. One extreme example of class is the caste system in India which divides people into five different groups within society.

    According to Karl Heinrich Marx, there is no freedom for individuals in the social class. Human beings are motivated by social, economic power such as money and status. These desires that people originally have make the hierarchy. He also argues that for these people tend to believe in religion strongly so they can repress their resentment which emerges because of the social situation.

    3. Physical Force

    Physical force is using physical coercion as a means to gain power and control over others. Such forces have been used by civilizations for thousands of years in order to survive. Stateless societies typically had this form of power employed, where locals feared other powerful locals. A person in high position of power might use force to persuade others do perform a task, or make them stop practicing certain rituals [14]. Force usually involves violence and inflicts fear. It is used in a variety ways and seen utilized in many places across the globe. Many people try to resist force and try to retaliate, which can often lead to harm being done to one or both parties involved. This is also known as the power of free agency; or "the freedom of self contained individuals to pursue their own interests above everything else and to challenge another for dominance."

    A specific example of physical force being used for free agency is the Gulf War. Iraq used their large army to conquer Kuwait so they could gain oil, in an effort to benefit financially.[9] Oil, however, is the lifeblood of many western nations, and for the first time in its history, the United Nations formed a coalition to make sure that the U.S. and Western European Nations would continue to receive cheap gasoline throughout the remainder of the 20th century. This is free agency because Iraq was pursuing its own interests without worrying about how the world or Kuwait would respond. The world then responded in an efficient manner and evicted Iraq from Kuwait, basically telling Iraq that they couldn't do whatever they want just because they are bigger than another country.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Israeli Tanks.

    In new era of nuclear weapons and WMD, the threat of violence or physical force can be just as effective as actually perpetuating the violence. We see examples of this during the Cold War, when extreme nuclear proliferation, lead to an arms race between the United States and the USSR. Nuclear proliferation lead to the theory of mutually assured destruction, which occurs when conflict would cause the complete annihilation of both the attacker and the defender. Neither side has any incentive to initiate a conflict or to disarm, and it therefor serves as a preventative measure. We saw the height of this kind of strategic theory, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was the closest the world has ever gotten to all out nuclear holocaust.

    4. Persuasion

    Persuasion:Power based on verbal argument (Schultz-Lavenda, 244). Persuasion is the act of influencing others into adopting an idea. This is usually done through speech and rarely through physical acts. The ability to persuade is highly coveted and is often associated with powerful people in many societies, because those who can persuade can be trusted to speak for their people. This is why persuasive speakers tend to be the ones to speak for those in their societies. For example, the Huichol People of Northern Mexico have shaman that see themselves as being able to speak for all of the Huichol and are often involved in negotiations with other societies because of their persuasive abilities. (Shultz-Lavenda 244-245). Blackmail is a tool of persuasion with more sinister intentions. It is usually in the form of using a threat, whether it is a way of tarnishing one's reputation or performing an act that can do harm on a person's way of life. And in exchange of not pursuing this threat, needs or satisfactions are met.

    CITATION: Some tips taken from:

    5. Fame

    Combine the two main sources of power and what do you get? Fame. Fame is based on money and a high social status. Many western cultures look to those who are famous almost as idols. Money and a high social class, whether gained or born into, are closely related to celebrities and socialites. Those who gain or inherit fame are given power almost automatically, even though they do not necessarily have the right to have this power.

    An ethnographic example of the power that comes with fame would be celebrities. In the United States, celebrities are fawned over by their fans, and in some cases receive special treatment over non-celebrities. For example, in the case of imprisonment, celebrities are able to get out of prison early for no apparent reason. One example of a celebrity who was able to get out of prison before the end of their sentence was Nicole Richie. She was sentenced for driving the wrong way down a road while drunk, for which she served a total of eighty-two minutes instead of four days. [15]

    6. Tradition

    The power of Tradition in a culture can be defined as the possession of control or command over others through a long established way of thinking. This type of power is usually asserted through means of religion, cultural beliefs and workforce. Religions have long histories, which inevitably create traditional customs, laws, beliefs and ways of thinking or processing. Certain cultures have traditional beliefs that grant power logically to one sex over the other, such as in patriarchal or matriarchal cultures.

    In an ethnographic attempt to further explain the power of tradition, examine the status of women in Islamic religion. In Farnaz Fassihi’s book of her reporting in Iraq post Saddam Hussein’s fall, she states how her gender is a reoccurring problem when Iraq’s policies are being greatly influenced by its Islamic traditions and its Islamic religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Sistani. Fassihi explains, “I never had to tiptoe around my gender the way I do offices of political parties or clerics, I am required to stand outside under the sweltering sun because the waiting room is designated for men...the entrances to the holy shrines in Karbala and Najaf now have segregated entries with a...police officer checking the attire of visiting female” (Fassihi 116). Fassihi is appalled at the way women are thought of and are treated, but it is the power of tradition that allows men to carry on this way. The power of tradition creates customs within cultures and religions. In the Islamic faith, it is customary for women to dress modestly, in this sense women wear head-covers (see Women in Islam). Tradition can furthermore create beliefs, such as the belief that women should not look men in the eye if outside of their immediate family.

    Kinds of Social Power

    • Interpersonal PowerThe ability of one individual to impose his or her own will on another individuals (Schultz-Lavenda, 233).

    In its broadest sense, interpersonal power refers to the cause of any change in the behavior of one actor, B, which can be attributed to the effect of another actor, A. It can refer to the capacity and usage of that capacity to cause such change (Weber [1918] 1968), (Dahl 1957; Simon 1953) but always to overcoming the "resistance" of B (Weber [1918] 1968), hence causing B to do something B would not otherwise do (Dahl 1957). Interpersonal power is therefore the power of one individual "over" another as opposed to an individual's power to do something, the capacity of an actor to attain some goal (IPES, BookRags).

    • Organizational PowerHighlights how individuals or social units can limit the actions of other individuals in particular social settings (Schultz-Lavenda, 233).

    Organizational Power Politics is about how individuals can achieve their objectives in organizational work groups. Office politics or organizational politics, is a significant part of the life of everyone who works with others in formal or informal groups. These relationships are power-tinged, and success can be attained only as we use power effectively. Understanding what power is and how it can be used to gain personal or group objectives is the focus of the book. It provides readers with specific recommendations about the situations in which power use can be effective, and it identifies those tactics most effective in leading subordinates and superiors toward the achievement of our goals. This work will be of interest to scholars and practicing managers seeking information on how better to use organizational politics to attain personal and organizational goals. It provides insight into power theory, as well as a practical model for power use, strategic orientation, and operational tactics (Choice, Greenwood).

    • Structural PowerOrganizes social settings themselves and controls the allocation of social labor (Schultz-Lavenda, 233).

    Winter and Stewart (1978) have provided a useful taxonomy of power-related constructs linking the organizational and individual levels. Power as an attribute of particular social roles (e.g., jobs) locates individuals in organizational roles that legitimize or require actual power behavior (actions affecting the behavior and emotions of other people) from the individual for effective role performance. The enjoyment of power satisfaction, regardless of social role, requires both feeling powerful as a result of successful power behavior and the capacity to find that feeling gratifying. Thus, power as a source of job satisfaction depends on opportunities for power behavior, frequent successful outcomes of power behavior, and the experience of feeling powerful. This should be more likely in jobs that provide structural power as an attribute of the occupational role (Bnet).

    The Role of the State

    Many early political anthropologists assumed that in order for a civilization to be socially civilized, a state was necessary. This idea was rooted in the western idea that without a state, disorder and anarchy would erupt. Anthropologists such as Lewis Henry Morgan proved that successful societies where an actual state is not present exist. In these societies, it was common that various roles were given to different people, thus distributing power among the people. Order within a social group in the absence of a state can be maintained so long as the group has a system in which they organize themselves.

    This page titled 11.5: Power is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Wikibooks - Cultural Anthropology (Wikibooks) .

    • Was this article helpful?