Social power is a universal aspect of social interaction. It plays an important role in shaping relations among the members of a group. In groups some members are more powerful than others and this fact has important consequences for a group functioning. Further all forms of social interaction involve differences in the relative power of the participants to influence one another. Thus power differences enter into determining the relations between father and child, employer and employee, politician and voter teacher and student.
Meaning and definition of power
Kingsley Davis defines power as “the determination of behavior of others in accordance with one’s own ends.” According to Sheriff :power denotes the relative weights of behavior by member in a group structure.”
Weber has defined power as the probability that one actor. (individual or group) within a social relationship in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance, regardless of the basis on which this probability rests. He goes on to say “All conceivable qualities of a person and all combination of circumstances may put him in a position to impose his will in a given situation. These definitions show that power is a broad concept.
In general it means the ability to influence the behavior of the other person. But power need not be considered equivalent which influence without any regard to the situation in which it occurs. A new born infant can influence the behavior of his parents. A stranger on the street can inference the action of others by calling out “Look out for the bus”. But this influence is not equivalent with power in group functioning. The important element in the definitions of power is group functioning. The important element in the definitions of power is the ability to determine the behavior of others in accordance with one’s own wishes despite opposition.
According to Green “Power is simply the extent of capability to control others so that they will do what they are wanted to do.” Lundberg and others also say, By power we mean the extent to which persons or groups can limit or regulate the alternative courses of action open to other persons or groups with or without their consent.”
Power may be exercised blutantly or subtly, legally or illegally, justly or unjustly. It may be derived from many sources such as wealth, status, prestige, numbers or organizational efficiency. Its ultimate basis however is the ability to compel obedience if necessary through the threat or use of force.
Social power has been identified in different ways with prestige, influence, eminence, competence, dominance, rights, strength force and authority.
(i) Power and prestige are closely linked, as Ross said, The class that has the most prestige will leave the most power. It can be said that the powerful groups tend to be prestigious and prestigious group powerful.
(ii) Knowledge, eminence, skill and competence all contribute to prestige but they need not necessarily accompany power. If all power is accompanied by these factors then the association is only incidental.
(iii) Power and dominance are also to be distinguished. Power is a sociological and dominance a psychological phenomenon. The laws of power is in both person and groups and in important cases it is in the latter. But dominance is a function of personality or of temperament. It is a personal trait. It is also possible to find dominant individuals playing roles in powerless groups and submissive individuals playing roles in powerful ones. Power is one thing and dominance quite another.
(iv) Power and Rights – Rights are more closely associated with privileges and with authority than they are with power. A right is one of the prerequisites of power and not power itself. One may have right without the power to exercise it. The man who has the power rarely waits for the right to use it. A right always requires some support in the right to social structure. No individual can successfully claim a right that is unrecognized in the law and non existent in the modes. Right in general like privileges, duties, obligation, responsibilities etc. are attached to the statuses whereas power does not necessarily require the backing of the status.
(v) Power, Force and Authority- Power is not force and power is not authority but it is related to both. As Robert Bierstedt said, “Power is talent force. Power is the prior capacity that makes the use of force, force is manifesto power and authority is institutionalized possible. Only groups that have power can threaten to use “force and the threat the itself is power. Power is the ability to use force not its actual employment. Power is always successful when it is not successful it causes to be power. Power thus symbolizes the force that may be applied in any social situation and supports the authority that is applied. Power is thus neither force nor authority but it makes both force and authority possible says Robert Bierstedt.