# 9.1C: Power

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Power refers to someone’s ability to get others to do his or her will, regardless of whether or not they want to.

Learning Objectives

• Compare the positives and negatives associated with the use of power and how power operates in society

## Key Points

• Legitimate power, power given to individuals willingly by others, is called ” authority “.
• Illegitimate power, power taken by force or the threat of force, is called ” coercion “.
• Coercion is power taken by force or the threat of force.
• Influence, in contrast to coercion, refers to the means by which power is used.
• 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.

## Key Terms

• coercion: Actual or threatened force for the purpose of compelling action by another person; the act of coercing.
• influence: An action exerted by a person or thing with such power on another to cause change.

Power refers to someone’s ability to get others to do his or her will, regardless of whether or not they want to. It is also a measurement of an entity’s ability to control its environment, including the behavior of other entities. Legitimate power, power given to individuals willingly by others, is called “authority;” illegitimate power, power taken by force or the threat of force, is called “coercion. ” In the corporate environment, power is often expressed as upward or downward. With downward power, a company’s superior influences subordinates. When a company exerts upward power, it is the subordinates who influence the decisions of the leader. Often, the study of power in a society is referred to as “politics. ”

Power can be seen as evil or unjust, but the exercise of power is accepted as endemic to humans as social beings. The use of power need not involve coercion (force or the threat of force). At one extreme, it more closely resembles what everyday English-speakers call “influence,” or the means by which power is used. Although power can be seen as various forms of constraint on human action, it can also be understood as that which makes action possible, although in a limited scope.

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 analyze relationships in which the parties have relatively equal or nearly equal power in terms of constraint rather than of power.

9.1C: Power is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.