Overblog
Edit post Follow this blog Administration + Create my blog

Published by jack elliot

the position of power could lie with money

land and the disposition of land

Power (social and political)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

(Redirected from Power (philosophy))

In social science and politics, power is the ability to influence or control the behavior of people.

The term "authority" is often used for power perceived as legitimate by the social structure.

Power can be seen as evil or unjust, but the exercise of power is accepted asendemic to humans as social beings.

In business, power is often expressed as being "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 their leader or leaders.[1]

The use of power need not involve force or the threat of force (coercion). At one extreme, it closely resembles what an English-speaking person might term "influence", although some authors distinguish "influence" as a means by which power is used.[2] One such example is soft power, as compared to hard power.

Much of the recent sociological debate about power revolves around the issue of its means to enable – in other words, power as a means to make social actions possible as much as it may constrain or prevent them. The philosopher Michel Foucault saw power as astructural expression of "a complex strategic situation in a given social setting"[3] that requires both constraint and enablement.

Contents

Theories[edit]

Five bases of power[edit]

Main article: French and Raven's five bases of power

Social psychologists John R. P. French and Bertram Raven, in a now-classic study (1959),[4] developed a schema of sources of power by which to analyse how power plays work (or fail to work) in a specific relationship.

According to French and Raven, power must be distinguished from influence in the following way: power is that state of affairs which holds in a given relationship, A-B, such that a given influence attempt by A over B makes A's desired change in B more likely. Conceived this way, power is fundamentally relative – it depends on the specific understandings A and B each apply to their relationship, and, interestingly, requires B's recognition of a quality in A which would motivate B to change in the way A intends. A must draw on the 'base' or combination of bases of power appropriate to the relationship, to effect the desired outcome. Drawing on the wrong power base can have unintended effects, including a reduction in A's own power.

French and Raven argue that there are five significant categories of such qualities, while not excluding other minor categories. Further bases have since been adduced – in particular by Gareth Morgan in his 1986 book, Images of Organization.[5]

Also called "positional power," it is the power of an individual because of the relative position and duties of the holder of the position within an organization. Legitimate power is formal authority delegated to the holder of the position. It is usually accompanied by various attributes of power such as a uniform, a title, or an imposing physical office.

Main article: Referent power

Referent power is the power or ability of individuals to attract others and build loyalty. It is based on the charisma and interpersonal skills of the power holder. A person may be admired because of specific personal trait, and this admiration creates the opportunity for interpersonal influence. Here the person under power desires to identify with these personal qualities, and gains satisfaction from being an accepted follower. Nationalism and patriotism count towards an intangible sort of referent power. For example, soldiers fight in wars to defend the honor of the country. This is the second least obvious power, but the most effective. Advertisers have long used the referent power of sports figures for products endorsements, for example. The charismatic appeal of the sports star supposedly leads to an acceptance of the endorsement, although the individual may have little real credibility outside the sports arena.[6] Abuse is possible when someone that is likable, yet lacks integrity and honesty, rises to power, placing them in a situation to gain personal advantage at the cost of the group's position. Referent power is unstable alone, and is not enough for a leader who wants longevity and respect. When combined with other sources of power, however, it can help a person achieve great success.[7]

Main article: Expert power

Expert power is an individual's power deriving from the skills or expertise of the person and the organization's needs for those skills and expertise. Unlike the others, this type of power is usually highly specific and limited to the particular area in which the expert is trained and qualified. When they have knowledge and skills that enable them to understand a situation, suggest solutions, use solid judgment, and generally out perform others, then people tend to listen to them. When individuals demonstrate expertise, people tend to trust them and respect what they say. As subject matter experts, their ideas will have more value, and others will look to them for leadership in that area.[7]

Reward power depends on the ability of the power wielder to confer valued material rewards, it refers to the degree to which the individual can give others a reward of some kind such as benefits, time off, desired gifts, promotions or increases in pay or responsibility. This power is obvious but also ineffective if abused. People who abuse reward power can become pushy or be reprimanded for being too forthcoming or 'moving things too quickly'. If others expect to be rewarded for doing what someone wants, there's a high probability that they'll do it. The problem with this basis of power is that the rewarder may not have as much control over rewards as may be required. Supervisors rarely have complete control over salary increases, and managers often can't control promotions all by themselves. And even a CEO needs permission from the board of directors for some actions. So when somebody uses up available rewards, or the rewards don't have enough perceived value to others, their power weakens. (One of the frustrations of using rewards is that they often need to be bigger each time if they're to have the same motivational impact. Even then, if rewards are given frequently, people can become satiated by the reward, such that it loses its effectiveness).[7]

Coercive power is the application of negative influences. It includes the ability to demote or to withhold other rewards. The desire for valued rewards or the fear of having them withheld that ensures the obedience of those under power. Coercive power tends to be the most obvious but least effective form of power as it builds resentment and resistance from the people who experience it. Threats and punishment are common tools of coercion. Implying or threatening that someone will be fired, demoted, denied privileges, or given undesirable assignments – these are examples of using coercive power. Extensive use of coercive power is rarely appropriate in an organizational setting, and relying on these forms of power alone will result in a very cold, impoverished style of leadership.[7]

Types of power[edit]

JK Galbraith summarizes the types of power as being "Condign" (based on force), "Compensatory" (through the use of various resources) or "Conditioned" (the result of persuasion), and their sources as "Personality" (individuals), "Property" (their material resources) and "Organizational" (whoever sits at the top of an organisational power structure).[8]

Power principles in interpersonal relationships[edit]

See also: interpersonal relationships

  1. Power as a Perception: Power is a perception in a sense that some people can have objective power, but still have trouble influencing others. People who use power cues and act powerfully and proactively tend to be perceived as powerful by others. Some people become influential even though they don't overtly use powerful behavior.
  2. Power as a Relational Concept: Power exists in relationships. The issue here is often how much relative power a person has in comparison to one's partner. Partners in close and satisfying relationships often influence each other at different times in various arenas.
  3. Power as Resource Based: Power usually represents a struggle over resources. The more scarce and valued resources are, the more intense and protracted are power struggles. The scarcity hypothesis indicates that people have the most power when the resources they possess are hard to come by or are in high demand. However, scarce resource leads to power only if it's valued within a relationship.
  4. The Principle of Least Interest and Dependence Power: The person with less to lose has greater power in the relationship. Dependence power indicates that those who are dependent on their relationship or partner are less powerful, especially if they know their partner is uncommitted and might leave them. According to interdependence theory, quality of alternatives refers to the types of relationships and opportunities people could have if they were not in their current relationship. Theprinciple of least interest suggests that if a difference exists in the intensity of positive feelings between partners, the partner who feels the most positive is at a power disadvantage. There's an inverse relationship between interest in relationship and the degree of relational power.
  5. Power as Enabling or Disabling: Power can be enabling or disabling. Research has been shown that people are more likely to have an enduring influence on others when they engage in dominant behavior that reflects social skill rather than intimidation. Personal power is protective against pressure and excessive influence by others and/or situational stress. People who communicate through self-confidence and expressive, composed behavior tend to be successful in achieving their goals and maintaining good relationships. Power can be disabling when it leads to destructive patterns of communication. This can lead to the chilling effect where the less powerful person often hesitates to communicate dissatisfaction, and the demand withdrawal pattern which is when one person makes demands and the other becomes defensive and withdraws(mawasha, 2006).Both effects have negative consequences for relational satisfaction.
  6. Power as a Prerogative: The prerogative principle states that the partner with more power can make and break the rules. Powerful people can violate norms, break relational rules, and manage interactions without as much penalty as powerless people. These actions may reinforce the powerful person's dependence power. In addition, the more powerful person has the prerogative to manage both verbal and nonverbal interactions. They can initiate conversations, change topics, interrupt others, initiate touch, and end discussions more easily than less powerful people.[9] (See expressions of dominance.)
Rational choice framework[edit]

Game theory, with its foundations in the Walrasian theory of rational choice, is increasingly used in various disciplines to help analyze power relationships. One rational choice definition of power is given by Keith Dowding in his book Power.

In rational choice theory, human individuals or groups can be modelled as 'actors' who choose from a 'choice set' of possible actions in order to try to achieve desired outcomes. An actor's 'incentive structure' comprises (its beliefs about) the costs associated with different actions in the choice set, and the likelihoods that different actions will lead to desired outcomes.

In this setting we can differentiate between:

  1. outcome power – the ability of an actor to bring about or help bring about outcomes;
  2. social power – the ability of an actor to change the incentive structures of other actors in order to bring about outcomes.

This framework can be used to model a wide range of social interactions where actors have the ability to exert power over others. For example, a 'powerful' actor can take options away from another's choice set; can change the relative costs of actions; can change the likelihood that a given action will lead to a given outcome; or might simply change the other's beliefs about its incentive structure.

As with other models of power, this framework is neutral as to the use of 'coercion'. For example: a threat of violence can change the likely costs and benefits of different actions; so can a financial penalty in a 'voluntarily agreed' contract, or indeed a friendly offer.

Cultural Hegemony[edit]

In the Marxist tradition, the Italian writer Antonio Gramsci elaborated the role of ideology in creating a cultural hegemony, which becomes a means of bolstering the power of capitalism and of the nation-state. Drawing on Niccolò Machiavelli in The Prince, and trying to understand why there had been no Communist revolution in Western Europe, while it was claimed there had been one in Russia, Gramsci conceptualised this hegemony as a centaur, consisting of two halves. The back end, the beast, represented the more classic, material image of power, power through coercion, through brute force, be it physical or economic. But the capitalist hegemony, he argued, depended even more strongly on the front end, the human face, which projected power through 'consent'. In Russia, this power was lacking, allowing for a revolution. However, in Western Europe, specifically in Italy, capitalism had succeeded in exercising consensual power, convincing the working classes that their interests were the same as those of capitalists. In this way revolution had been avoided.

While Gramsci stresses the significance of ideology in power structures, Marxist-feminist writers such as Michele Barrett stress the role of ideologies in extolling the virtues of family life. The classic argument to illustrate this point of view is the use of women as a 'reserve army of labour'. In wartime it is accepted that women perform masculine tasks, while after the war the roles are easily reversed. Therefore, according to Barrett, the destruction of capitalist economic relations is necessary but not sufficient for the liberation of women.[10]

Tarnow[edit]

Tarnow[11] considers what power hijackers have over air plane passengers and draws similarities with power in the military. He shows that power over an individual can be amplified by the presence of a group. If the group conforms to the leader's commands, the leader's power over an individual is greatly enhanced while if the group does not conform the leader's power over an individual is nil.

Foucault[edit]

For Foucault real power will always rely on the ignorance of its agents; with the discovery and emergence of Biopower, and Biopolitics a biological and political technology of its population, highlights this fact. No single human, group nor single actor runs the dispositif (machine or apparatus) but power is dispersed through the apparatus as efficiently and silently as possible, ensuring its agents do whatever is necessary. It is because of this action that power is unlikely to be detected, so remains elusive to 'rational' investigation. Foucault quotes a text reputedly written by political economist

In the Marxist tradition, the Italian writer Antonio Gramsci elaborated the role of ideology in creating a cultural hegemony, which becomes a means of bolstering the power of capitalism and of the nation-state. Drawing on Niccolò Machiavelli in The Prince, and trying to understand why there had been no Communist revolution in Western Europe, while it was claimed there had been one in Russia, Gramsci conceptualised this hegemony as a centaur, consisting of two halves. The back end, the beast, represented the more classic, material image of power, power through coercion, through brute force, be it physical or economic. But the capitalist hegemony, he argued, depended even more strongly on the front end, the human face, which projected power through 'consent'. In Russia, this power was lacking, allowing for a revolution. However, in Western Europe, specifically in Italy, capitalism had succeeded in exercising consensual power, convincing the working classes that their interests were the same as those of capitalists. In this way revolution had been avoided.

While Gramsci stresses the significance of ideology in power structures, Marxist-feminist writers such as Michele Barrett stress the role of ideologies in extolling the virtues of family life. The classic argument to illustrate this point of view is the use of women as a 'reserve army of labour'. In wartime it is accepted that women perform masculine tasks, while after the war the roles are easily reversed. Therefore, according to Barrett, the destruction of capitalist economic relations is necessary but not sufficient for the liberation of women.[10]

Tarnow[edit]

Tarnow[11] considers what power hijackers have over air plane passengers and draws similarities with power in the military. He shows that power over an individual can be amplified by the presence of a group. If the group conforms to the leader's commands, the leader's power over an individual is greatly enhanced while if the group does not conform the leader's power over an individual is nil.

Foucault[edit]

For Foucault real power will always rely on the ignorance of its agents; with the discovery and emergence of Biopower, and Biopolitics a biological and political technology of its population, highlights this fact. No single human, group nor single actor runs the dispositif (machine or apparatus) but power is dispersed through the apparatus as efficiently and silently as possible, ensuring its agents do whatever is necessary. It is because of this action that power is unlikely to be detected, so remains elusive to 'rational' investigation. Foucault quotes a text reputedly written by political economist Jean Baptiste Antoine Auget de Montyon, entitled Recherches et considérations sur la population de la France (1778), but however, turns out to be written by his secretary Jean-Baptise Moheau (1745–1794) and by emphasizing Biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck who constantly refers to Milieus as a plural adjective and sees into the milieu as an expression as nothing more than water air and light confirming the genus within the milieu, in this case the human species, relates to a function of the population and its social and political interaction in which both form an artificial and natural milieu. This milieu appears as a target of intervention for power according to Foucault which is radically different from the previous notions on sovereignty, territory and disciplinary space inter woven into from a social and political relations which function as a species (biological species).[12]

Clegg[edit]

Stewart Clegg proposes another three-dimensional model with his "circuits of power"[13] theory. This model likens the production and organizing of power to an electric circuit board consisting of three distinct interacting circuits: episodic, dispositional, and facilitative. These circuits operate at three levels, two are macro and one is micro. The episodic circuit is the micro level and is constituted of irregular exercise of power as agents address feelings, communication, conflict, and resistance in day-to-day interrelations. The outcomes of the episodic circuit are both positive and negative. The dispositional circuit is constituted of macro level rules of practice and socially constructed meanings that inform member relations and legitimate authority. The facilitative circuit is constituted of macro level technology, environmental contingencies, job design, and networks, which empower or disempower and thus punish or reward, agency in the episodic circuit. All three independent circuits interact at “obligatory passage points” which are channels for empowerment or disempowerment.

Gene Sharp[edit]

Gene Sharp, an American professor of political science, believes that power depends ultimately on its bases. Thus a political regime maintains power because people accept and obey its dictates, laws and policies. Sharp cites the insight of Étienne de La Boétie.

Sharp's key theme is that power is not monolithic; that is, it does not derive from some intrinsic quality of those who are in power. For Sharp, political power, the power of any state – regardless of its particular structural organization – ultimately derives from the subjects of the state. His fundamental belief is that any power structure relies upon the subjects' obedience to the orders of the ruler(s). If subjects do not obey, leaders have no power.[14]

His work is thought to have been influential in the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic, in the 2011 Arab Spring, and other nonviolent revolutions.[15]

Björn Kraus[edit]

Björn Kraus deals with the epistemological perspective upon power regarding the question about possibilities of interpersonal influence by developing a special form of constructivism (“Machtanalytischer Konstruktivismus”).[16] Instead of focussing on the valuation and distribution of power, he asks first and foremost what the term can describe at all.[17] Coming from Max Weber’s definition of power,[18] he realizes that the term of power has to be split into "instructive power" and "destructive power".[19]:105[20]:126 More precisely, instructive power means the chance to determine the actions and thoughts of another person, whereas destructive power means the chance to diminish the opportunities of another person.[17] How significant this distinction really is, becomes evident by looking at the possibilities of rejecting power attempts: Rejecting instructive power is possible – rejecting destructive power is not. By using this distinction, proportions of power can be analyzed in a more sophisticated way, helping to sufficiently reflect on matters of responsibility.[20]:139 f. This perspective permits to get over an "either-or-position" (either there is power, or there isn't), which is common especially in epistemological discourses about power theories,[21][22][23] and to introduce the possibility of an “as well as-position”.[20]:120

Unmarked categories[edit]

The idea of unmarked categories originated in feminism. The theory analyzes the culture of the powerful. The powerful comprise those people in society with easy access to resources, those who can exercise power without considering their actions. For the powerful, their culture seems obvious; for the powerless, on the other hand, it remains out of reach, élite and expensive.

The unmarked category can form the identifying mark of the powerful. The unmarked category becomes the standard against which to measure everything else. For most Western readers, it is posited that if a protagonist's race is not indicated, it will be assumed by the reader that the protagonist is Caucasian; if a sexual identity is not indicated, it will be assumed by the reader that the protagonist is heterosexual; if the gender of a body is not indicated, will be assumed by the reader that it is male; if a disability is not indicated, it will be assumed by the reader that the protagonist is able bodied, just as a set of examples.

One can often overlook unmarked categories. Whiteness forms an unmarked category not commonly visible to the powerful, as they often fall within this category. The unmarked category becomes the norm, with the other categories relegated to deviant status. Social groups can apply this view of power to race, gender, and disability without modification: the able body is the neutral body.

Counterpower[edit]

The term 'counter-power' (sometimes written 'counterpower') is used in a range of situations to describe the countervailing force that can be utilised by the oppressed to counterbalance or erode the power of elites. A general definition has been provided by the anthropologist David Graeber as 'a collection of social institutions set in opposition to the state and capital: from self-governing communities to radical labor unions to popular militias'.[24] Graeber also notes that counter-power can also be referred to as 'anti-power' and 'when institutions [of counter-power] maintain themselves in the face of the state, this is usually referred to as a 'dual power' situation'.[24] Tim Gee, in his 2011 book Counterpower: Making Change Happen,[25] put forward a theory that those disempowered by governments' and elite groups' power can use counterpower to counter this.[26] In Gee's model, counterpower is splits into three categories: idea counterpower, economic counterpower, and physical counterpower.[25]

Although the term has come to prominence through its use by participants in the global justice/anti-globalization movement of the 1990s onwards,[27] the word has been used for at least 60 years; for instance Martin Buber's 1949 book 'Paths in Utopia' includes the line 'Power abdicates only under the stress of counter-power'.[28][29]:13

Other theories[edit]
  • Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) defined power as a man's "present means, to obtain some future apparent good" (Leviathan, Ch. 10).
  • The thought of Friedrich Nietzsche underlies much 20th century analysis of power. Nietzsche disseminated ideas on the "will to power," which he saw as the domination of other humans as much as the exercise of control over one's environment.
  • Some schools of psychology, notably that associated with Alfred Adler, place power dynamics at the core of their theory (where orthodox Freudians might place sexuality).

Psychological research[edit]

Recent experimental psychology suggests that the more power one has, the less one takes on the perspective of others, implying that the powerful have less empathy. Adam Galinsky, along with several coauthors, found that when those who are reminded of their powerlessness are instructed to draw Es on their forehead, they are 3 times more likely to draw them such that they are legible to others than those who are reminded of their power.[30][31] Powerful people are also more likely to take action. In one example, powerful people turned off an irritatingly close fan twice as much as less powerful people. Researchers have documented the bystander effect: they found that powerful people are three times as likely to first offer help to a "stranger in distress".[32]

A study involving over 50 college students suggested that those primed to feel powerful through stating 'power words' were less susceptible to external pressure, more willing to give honest feedback, and more creative.[33]

Empathy gap[edit]

Main article: Empathy gap

"Power is defined as a possibility to influence others."[34]:1137

The use of power has evolved from centuries. Gaining prestige, honor and reputation is one of the central motives of gaining power in human nature. Power also relates with empathy gap because it limits the interpersonal relationship and compares the power differences. Having power and not having power can affect a number of psychological consequences. It leads to strategic versus social responsibilities. Research experiments were done in past, as early as 1968, to explore power conflict.[34]

Earlier, research proposed that increased power is related to increased rewards and leads one to approach things more frequently. In contrast, decreased power is related to more constraint, threat and punishment which leads one to inhibitions. It was concluded that being powerful leads one to successful outcome, develop negotiation strategies and make more self-serving offers.

Later, research proposed that differences in power lead to strategic considerations. Being strategic can also mean to defend when one is opposed or to hurt the decision maker. It was concluded that facing one with more power leads to strategic consideration whereas facing one with less power leads to a social responsibility.[34]

Bargaining games were explored in year 2003 and year 2004. These studies compared behavior done in different power given situation.[34]

In an ultimatum game, the person in given power offers an ultimatum and the recipient would have to accept that offer or else both the proposer and the recipient will receive no reward.[34]

In a dictator game, the person in given power offers a proposal and the recipient would have to accept that offer. The recipient has no choice of rejecting the offer.[34]

The dictator game gives no power to the recipient whereas the ultimatum game gives some power to the recipient. The behavior observed was that the person offering the proposal would act less strategically than would the one offering in the ultimatum game. Self-serving also occurred and a lot of pro-social behavior was observed.[34]

When the counterpart recipient is completely powerless, lack of strategy, social responsibility and moral consideration is often observed from the behavior of the proposal given (the one with the power).[34]

Power and control in abusive relationships[edit]

Main article: Power and control in abusive relationships

In abusive relationships, violence is posited to arise out of a need for power and control of one partner over the other. An abuser will use various tactics of abuse (e.g., physical, verbal, emotional, sexual or financial) in order to establish and maintain control over the partner.

Tactics[edit]

In everyday situations people use a variety of power tactics to push or prompt people into particular action. There are plenty of examples of power tactics that are quite common and employed every day. Some of these tactics include bullying, collaboration, complaining, criticizing, demanding, disengaging, evading, humor, inspiring, manipulating, negotiating, socializing, and supplicating. These power tactics can be classified along three different dimensions: softness, rationality, and laterality.[35][36]

Main articles: Hard power and Soft power

People tend to vary in their use of power tactics, with different types of people opting for different tactics. For instance, interpersonally oriented people tend to use soft and rational tactics.[35] Machiavellians, however, tend to use nonrational tactics. Moreover, extroverts use a greater variety of power tactics than do introverts.[37] People will also choose different tactics based on the group situation, and based on who they are trying to influence. People also tend to shift from soft to hard tactics when they face resistance.[38][39]

Balance of power[edit]

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 analyse relationships in which the parties have relatively equal or nearly equal power in terms of constraint rather than of power. Thus 'power' has a connotation of unilateralism. If this were not so, then all relationships could be described in terms of 'power', and its meaning would be lost. Given that power is not innate and can be granted to others, to acquire power you must possess or control a form of power currency.[40]

See also[edit]

The Power Paradox

True power requires modesty and empathy, not force and coercion, argues Dacher Keltner. But what people want from leaders—social intelligence—is what is damaged by the experience of power.

“It is much safer to be feared than loved,” writes Niccolò Machiavelli in The Prince, his classic 16th-century treatise advocating manipulation and occasional cruelty as the best means to power. Almost 500 years later, Robert Greene’snational bestseller, The 48 Laws of Power, would have made Machiavelli’s chest swell with pride. Greene’s book, bedside reading of foreign policy analysts and hip-hop stars alike, is pure Machiavelli. Here are a few of his 48 laws:

Law 3, Conceal Your Intentions.
Law 6, Court Attention at All Costs.
Law 12, Use Selective Honesty and Generosity to Disarm Your Victims.
Law 15, Crush Your Enemy Totally.
Law 18, Keep Others in Suspended Terror.

You get the picture.

Guided by centuries of advice like Machiavelli’s and Greene’s, we tend to believe that attaining power requires force, deception, manipulation, and coercion. Indeed, we might even assume that positions of power demand this kind of conduct—that to run smoothly, society needs leaders who are willing and able to use power this way.

As seductive as these notions are, they are dead wrong. Instead, a new science of power has revealed that power is wielded most effectively when it’s used responsibly by people who are attuned to, and engaged with the needs and interests of others. Years of research suggests that empathy and social intelligence are vastly more important to acquiring and exercising power than are force, deception, or terror.

This research debunks longstanding myths about what constitutes true power, how people obtain it, and how they should use it. But studies also show that once people assume positions of power, they’re likely to act more selfishly, impulsively, and aggressively, and they have a harder time seeing the world from other people’s points of view. This presents us with the paradox of power:
The skills most important to obtaining power and leading effectively are the very skills that deteriorate once we have power.

The power paradox requires that we be ever vigilant against the corruptive influences of power and its ability to distort the way we see ourselves and treat others. But this paradox also makes clear how important it is to challenge myths about power, which persuade us to choose the wrong kinds of leaders and to tolerate gross abuses of power. Instead of succumbing to the Machiavellian worldview—which unfortunately leads us to select Machiavellian leaders—we must promote a different model of power, one rooted in social intelligence, responsibility, and cooperation.

Myth number one: Power equals cash, votes, and muscle.

The term “power” often evokes images of force and coercion. Many people assume that power is most evident on the floor of the United States Congress or in corporate boardrooms. Treatments of power in the social sciences have followed suit, zeroing in on clashes over cash (financial wealth), votes (participation in the political decision making process), and muscle (military might).

But there are innumerable exceptions to this definition of power: a penniless two year old pleading for (and getting) candy in the check-out line at the grocery store, one spouse manipulating another for sex, or the success of nonviolent political movements in places like India or South Africa. Viewing power as cash, votes, and muscle blinds us to the ways power pervades our daily lives.

New psychological research has redefined power, and this definition makes clear just how prevalent and integral power is in all of our lives. In psychological science, power is defined as one’s capacity to alter another person’s condition or state of mind by providing or withholding resources—such as food, money, knowledge, and affection—or administering punishments, such as physical harm, job termination, or social ostracism. This definition de-emphasizes how a person actually acts, and instead stresses the individual’s capacity to affect others. Perhaps most importantly, this definition applies across relationships, contexts, and cultures. It helps us understand how children can wield power over their parents from the time they’re born, or how someone—say, a religious leader—can be powerful in one context (on the pulpit during a Sunday sermon) but not another (on a mind numbingly slow line at the DMV come Monday morning). By this definition, one can be powerful without needing to try to control, coerce, or dominate. Indeed, when people resort to trying to control others, it’s often a sign that their power is slipping.

This definition complicates our understanding of power. Power is not something limited to power-hungry individuals or organizations; it is part of every social interaction where people have the capacity to influence one another’s states, which is really every moment of life. Claims that power is simply a product of male biology miss the degree to which women have obtained and wielded power in many social situations. In fact, studies I’ve conducted find that people grant power to women as readily as men, and in informal social hierarchies, women achieve similar levels of power as men.

So power is not something we should (or can) avoid, nor is it something that necessarily involves domination and submission. We are negotiating power every waking instant of our social lives (and in our dreams as well, Freud argued). When we seek equality, we are seeking an effective balance of power, not the absence of power. We use it to win consent and social cohesion, not just compliance. To be human is to be immersed in power dynamics.

Myth number two: Machiavellians win in the game of power.

One of the central questions concerning power is who gets it. Researchers have confronted this question for years, and their results offer a sharp rebuke to the Machiavellian view of power. It is not the manipulative, strategic Machiavellian who rises in power. Instead, social science reveals that one’s ability to get or maintain power, even in small group situations, depends on one’s ability to understand and advance the goals of other group members. When it comes to po

moothing over group tensions—prevails over social Darwinism.

For instance, highly detailed studies of “chimpanzee politics” have found that social power among nonhuman primates is based less on sheer strength, coercion, and the unbridled assertion of self-interest, and more on the ability to negotiate conflicts, to enforce group norms, and to allocate resources fairly. More often than not, this research shows, primates who try to wield their power by dominating others and prioritizing their own interests will find themselves challenged and, in time, deposed by subordinates. (Christopher Boehm describes this research in greater length in his essay.)

In my own research on human social hierarchies, I have consistently found that it is the more dynamic, playful, engaging members of the group who quickly garner and maintain the respect of their peers. Such outgoing, energetic, socially engaged individuals quickly rise through the ranks of emerging hierarchies.

Why social intelligence? Because of our ultrasociability. We accomplish most tasks related to survival and reproduction socially, from caring for our children to producing food and shelter. We give power to those who can best serve the interests of the group.

Time and time again, empirical studies find that leaders who treat their subordinates with respect, share power, and generate a sense of camaraderie and trust are considered more just and fair.
Social intelligence is essential not only to rising to power, but to keeping it. My colleague Cameron Anderson and I have studied the structure of social hierarchies within college dormitories over the course of a year, examining who is at the top and remains there, who falls in status, and who is less well-respected by their peers. We’ve consistently found that it is the socially engaged individuals who keep their power over time. In more recent work, Cameron has made the remarkable discovery that modesty may be critical to maintaining power. Individuals who are modest about their own power actually rise in hierarchies and maintain the status and respect of their peers, while individuals with an inflated, grandiose sense of power quickly fall to the bottom rungs.

So what is the fate of Machiavellian group members, avid practitioners of Greene’s 48 laws, who are willing to deceive, backstab, intimidate, and undermine others in their pursuit of power? We’ve found that these individuals do not actually rise to positions of power. Instead, their peers quickly recognize that they will harm others in the pursuit of their own self-interest, and tag them with a reputation of being harmful to the group and not worthy of leadership.

Cooperation and modesty aren’t just ethical ways to use power, and they don’t only serve the interests of a group; they’re also valuable skills for people who seek positions of power and want to hold onto them.

Myth number three: Power is strategically acquired, not given.

A major reason why Machiavellians fail is that they fall victim to a third myth about power. They mistakenly believe that power is acquired strategically in deceptive gamesmanship and by pitting others against one another. Here Machiavelli failed to appreciate an important fact in the evolution of human hierarchies: that with increasing social intelligence, subordinates can form powerful alliances and constrain the actions of those in power. Power increasingly has come to rest on the actions and judgments of other group members. A person’s power is only as strong as the status given to that person by others.

The sociologist Erving Goffman wrote with brilliant insight about deference—the manner in which we afford power to others with honorifics, formal prose, indirectness, and modest nonverbal displays of embarrassment. We can give power to others simply by being respectfully polite.

My own research has found that people instinctively identify individuals who might undermine the interests of the group, and prevent those people from rising in power, through what we call “reputational discourse.” In our research on different groups, we have asked group members to talk openly about other members’ reputations and to engage in gossip. We’ve found that Machiavellians quickly acquire reputations as individuals who act in ways that are inimical to the interests of others, and these reputations act like a glass ceiling, preventing their rise in power. In fact, this aspect of their behavior affected their reputations even more than their sexual morality, recreational habits, or their willingness to abide by group social conventions.

In The Prince, Machiavelli observes,

“Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good. Hence a prince who wants to keep his authority must learn how not to be good, and use that knowledge, or refrain from using it, as necessity requires.”

He adds, “A prince ought, above all things, always to endeavor in every action to gain for himself the reputation of being a great and remarkable man.” By contrast, several Eastern traditions, such asTaoism and Confucianism, exalt the modest leader, one who engages with the followers and practices social intelligence. In the words of the Taoist philosopher Lao-tzu, “To lead the people, walk behind them.” Compare this advice to Machiavelli’s, and judge them both against years of scientific research. Science gives the nod to Lao-tzu.

The power paradox

“Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely,” said the British historian Lord Acton. Unfortunately, this is not entirely a myth, as the actions of Europe’s monarchs, Enron’s executives, and out-of- control pop stars reveal. A great deal of research—especially from social psychology—lends support to Acton’s claim, albeit with a twist: Power leads people to act in impulsive fashion, both good and bad, and to fail to understand other people’s feelings and desires.

For instance, studies have found that people given power in experiments are more likely to rely on stereotypes when judging others, and they pay less attention to the characteristics that define those other people as individuals. Predisposed to stereotype, they also judge others’ attitudes, interests, and needs less accurately. One survey found that high-power professors made less accurate judgments about the attitudes of low-power professors than those low-power professors made about the attitudes of their more powerful colleagues. Power imbalances may even

“Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely,” said the British historian Lord Acton. Unfortunately, this is not entirely a myth, as the actions of Europe’s monarchs, Enron’s executives, and out-of- control pop stars reveal. A great deal of research—especially from social psychology—lends support to Acton’s claim, albeit with a twist: Power leads people to act in impulsive fashion, both good and bad, and to fail to understand other people’s feelings and desires.

For instance, studies have found that people given power in experiments are more likely to rely on stereotypes when judging others, and they pay less attention to the characteristics that define those other people as individuals. Predisposed to stereotype, they also judge others’ attitudes, interests, and needs less accurately. One survey found that high-power professors made less accurate judgments about the attitudes of low-power professors than those low-power professors made about the attitudes of their more powerful colleagues. Power imbalances may even help explain the finding that older siblings don’t perform as well as their younger siblings on theory-of-mind tasks, which assess one’s ability to construe the intentions and beliefs of others.

Power even prompts less complex legal reasoning in Supreme Court justices. A study led by Stanford psychologist Deborah Gruenfeldcompared the decisions of U.S. Supreme Court justices when they wrote opinions endorsing either the position of a majority of justices on the bench—a position of power—or the position of the vanquished, less powerful minority. Sure enough, when Gruenfeld analyzed the complexity of justices’ opinions on a vast array of cases, she found that justices writing from a position of power crafted less complex arguments than those writing from a low-power position.

A great deal of research has also found that power encourages individuals to act on their own whims, desires, and impulses. When researchers give people power in scientific experiments, those people are more likely to physically touch others in potentially inappropriate ways, to flirt in more direct fashion, to make risky choices and gambles, to make first offers in negotiations, to speak their mind, and to eat cookies like the Cookie Monster, with crumbs all over their chins and chests.

Perhaps more unsettling is the wealth of evidence that having power makes people more likely to act like sociopaths. High-power individuals are more likely to interrupt others, to speak out of turn, and to fail to look at others who are speaking. They are also more likely to tease friends and colleagues in hostile, humiliating fashion. Surveys of organizations find that most rude behaviors—shouting, profanities, bald critiques—emanate from the offices and cubicles of individuals in positions of power.

My own research has found that people with power tend to behave like patients who have damaged their brain’s orbitofrontal lobes (the region of the frontal lobes right behind the eye sockets), a condition that seems to cause overly impulsive and insensitive behavior. Thus the experience of power might be thought of as having someone open up your skull and take out that part of your brain so critical to empathy and socially-appropriate behavior.

Power may induce more harmful forms of aggression as well. In the famed Stanford Prison Experiment, psychologist Philip Zimbardorandomly assigned Stanford undergraduates to act as prison guards or prisoners—an extreme kind of power relation. The prison guards quickly descended into the purest forms of power abuse, psychologically torturing their peers, the prisoners. Similarly, anthropologists have found that cultures where rape is prevalent and accepted tend to be cultures with deeply entrenched beliefs in the supremacy of men over women.

This leaves us with a power paradox. Power is given to those individuals, groups, or nations who advance the interests of the greater good in socially-intelligent fashion.

Yet unfortunately, having power renders many individuals as impulsive and poorly attuned to others as your garden-variety frontal lobe patient, making them prone to act abusively and lose the esteem of their peers. What people want from leaders—social intelligence—is what is damaged by the experience of power.

When we recognize this paradox and all the destructive behaviors that flow from it, we can appreciate the importance of promoting a more socially-intelligent model of power. Social behaviors are dictated by social expectations. As we debunk long-standing myths and misconceptions about power, we can better identify the qualities powerful people should have, and better understand how they should wield their power. As a result, we’ll have much less tolerance for people who lead by deception, coercion, or undue force. No longer will we expect these kinds of antisocial behaviors from our leaders and silently accept them when they come to pass.

We’ll also start to demand something more from our colleagues, our neighbors, and ourselves. When we appreciate the distinctions between responsible and irresponsible uses of power—and the importance of practicing the responsible, socially-intelligent form of it—we take a vital step toward promoting healthy marriages, peaceful playgrounds, and societies built on cooperation and trust.

COMMENTPRINT

To be informed of the latest articles, subscribe:
Comment on this post