Social Power has been central issues in Sociology. Power has a great role in our day to day life, in our society and in our system as a whole. It begins from micro level (home), to mezzo level (community) and deals at macro level (nations, geo political).
Though idea of social power has been debated in one way or the other among various scholars such as Archyia Kautalyia in his book “Arthshaastir” in which he depicts how a state may be run by keeping the power within the hands of ruler. Though coercive power has been used by various rulers in the history from every region and creed but somehow coercive power was legitimize philosophically by Machiavelli during the Renaissance period in his famous book “The Prince” where he clearly legitimizes ‘End justify the means’ notion.
Karl Marx has also commented on social power when he discusses that labor in this capitalistic society is coercive labor and it is the industrialist who controls the resources and has power over the means of production including the labor. It is that power imbalance of Capitalistic society he believes may be erased by revolution rather than reformation in the system.
There are several bases of social power and are well classified by French and Raven :
Coercive Power: “ability to punish those who not conform to your ideas or demands”. Coercive power has widely been discussed and debated by the sociologist in both classical and modern power. Coercive power may also be called as a misuse or abuse of power. Many states where Military governments topple the democratic setups are the part of coercive powers. But it does not necessarily means that coercive power does not exist in democratic setups. One finds various levels of use of coercive powers various institutions, in various parts of the world. These Islamic militants are another example of using coercive power in the domain of religion when exert their believes on the society as a whole and one who defies is punished for setting a lesson for the society in general. The reign of terror is another example when coercive power was in its climax.
Legitimate power or Organizational Authority: “This form is based on the perception that someone has the right to prescribe the behavior due to election or appointment to a position of responsibility also called normative power”. In the modern days, this legitimate power concept is more prevalent. Though the legitimacy was also prevalent in monarchy but that was top to bottom and one finds number of wars, fratricides and revolts within the monarchs to topple and overthrow the King/Queen by challenging its legitimacy and also using coercive power. But in democracy, this concept is from bottom to top, when people elect their officials and give them power or authority to decide on certain issues on behalf of their constituency. The process of election somehow legitimize the power and discretions which elected officials use at local, state, national or international level. Similar is the situation when on is appointed on some powerful post through a transparent and accountable process of induction to perform certain duties and use certain power lying within his/her domain.
Referent Power (Power through association with others who possess power) : This type is prevalent in our modern society no matter it is developed or developing world. It is somehow a subtle abuse of power when one associates oneself with a person who already has power and then acquire certain powers sometimes violates merit. It is very common when holds power then s/he wants to behold the surrounding power bases among ones peers. Therefore the second or third tier powers are normally referent powers (who sometimes are not eligible for those posts) rather than legitimate persons.
“Expert Power” is the ‘ability to have distinctive knowledge, expertise or skills’. Though one finds this power structure in ancient societies but they were rare in number and their role in power was limited. But industrial revolution has created another class of professionals (not workers) who ‘know more and more about less and less’ are called specialist or expert in their field. In government domain they are considered as Technocrats. They are the one who are bridge between the working and industrialist class. Their skills, knowledge and expertise bring them into the category of value added human resources which has more social capital value as compare to totalitarians. One finds that this expert class enjoys a power as a representative of the capitalist and directly deals with the working class. Therefore the power struggle at the moment is more between expert group and the worker group rather than worker and the owner of the factory.
Informative Power ‘deals with controlling information needed by others in order to attain a goal’.
Reward Power: “perceived ability to give positive consequences or remove negative ones”.
Personal View: I had an opportunity to work for a non profit organization in Pakistan and its motto was ‘Challenging Power Imbalances’. Its great to share that on hand experience that how power plays its role in various tiers of society and then how it may be challenged in a non confrontational way in order to bring the tiers of system accountable and transparent from bottom to top approach rather than other way round.
We were working on eradicating poverty through rights based approach rather than focusing on service delivery approach. And within that goal my area of work was to look into the issue of Food Rights at household, community, national and global level.
So the interesting finding was that there had been and has been abundant food production at global level which can easily feed the current world’s population. Then we tried to figure out that why about 856 million people are malnourished or food insecure. It came up that its not the production which matters but rather it’s the distribution which is more important. Ironically, most of the rich countries have abundant food and even millions of people go to bed hungry in those countries. Infact, the power of food production and distribution is not in the hands of government rather than in the corporate sector which sees food as a commodity not a human right. Therefore skewed distribution of food leaves many people manlnourished all around the world.
Then we looked into the national levels and particularly, the poor countries which want to overcome this food insecurity but sometimes their policy makers do not have ‘ Food ‘ as their top political agenda or sometimes are arm twisted by the donors who look more into the corporate interests of their countries rather than eradicating poverty and food insecurity in those countries. Therefore government which is normally run by the elite group do not know that what are the sufferings of poor who are suffering from food insecurity and malnourishment.
Similarly at community level it was found out that those who owns some land, business or some entrepreneur (As Marx calls it private property), are somehow food secure but those who do not have ownership or are tenants are more powerless and chronically food insecure. The power at local level is concentrated which have more assets and money.
At household level, we found that patriarchy plays very important role in poor countries and poor societies. Women who cook the food for the whole family is the last one to eat and the man who is considered as the head of the family gets the best out of that meal. So for him, its feast and for women it is just a left over if there is any !
Therefore, this power has vertical tiers as well as horizontal tiers. Though challenging power imbalances is somehow a defiance in that society but one needs to understand its dynamics at every level and then challenging strategies may be adopted with adaptations at each leve.

Bases of Social Power

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