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World Politics 31 1: Barnes, B The Nature of Power. Cartwright, N Capacities. Dahl, R A The concept of power. Behavioral Science 2 3: Dahl, R A A critique of the ruling elite model. The American Political Science Review 52 2: Dowding, K Power, capability and ableness: The fallacy of the vehicle fallacy. Contemporary Political Theory 7 3: Emerson, R M Power-dependence relations. American Sociological Review 27 1: Foucault, M Confessions in the flesh.

Pantheon Books , pp. Guzzini, S Power, Realism and Constructivism. Guzzini, S Power and cause.

Social Power: Definition & Concept

Journal of International Relations and Development. Hobbes, T Leviathan rev. World Politics in Transition. Little, Brown and Co. Latour, B The powers of association. Power, Action, and Belief: A New Sociology of Knowledge? Lukes, S Power: Power and the Social. Sallie Westwood , Sal Westwood Dr. Power and the social. Social Perspectives in Mental Health: Login here for access. Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course. Login or Sign up.


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Anthony has taught Political Science at the university level and is working on his Ph. Any definition of a type of power must first identify what power is. Power can be understood as the ability to make one do something which he or she would not otherwise do. Power can be found in many forms, such as physical and mental. It can also be found in situations besides one-on-one confrontations.

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One other type of power is social power. Social power is a form of power that is found in society and within politics. While physical power relies upon strength to force another person to act, social power is found within the rules of society and laws of the land. It rarely uses one-on-one conflicts to force others to act in ways they normally would not. Social power can be found in many forms, but this lesson will focus on laws, wealth and fame. Laws can best be understood as codified social power.

Wealth lacks the authority of laws. Wealth projects its social power by shaping the beliefs of the lower classes. Fame , like wealth, draws its social power from admiration and envy. Fame can help one transmit messages better than laws or one who only has wealth. While it appears as if these three forms of social power work together, that is not a guarantee.

Memorable politicians can be wealthy and famous, but many experience only one type of social power or, possibly, neither. Wealthy individuals may not choose to wield their potential political power or may not be famous. Given the prominence of the Internet today, it is very possible that famous or notable people may not be wealthy or have any degree of political influence. Social power can be found in laws.

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These laws segregated African-Americans and white Americans in society. They were separated into different schools, different areas in public and even different restrooms. This was possible because those in favor of Jim Crow laws had the social power to elect politicians who would codify these feelings into law.

Social power is not always negative. Social power played a role in ending Jim Crow laws. Over the hundred years where Jim Crow laws were in effect, opponents spent time gaining social power from all across the United States. Eventually, the social power of opponents of Jim Crow was strong enough from outside the southeast United States that it overwhelmed the social power of Jim Crow supporters. Get FREE access for 5 days, just create an account.

Social power can also be found in wealth and the wealthy can have a great influence on society. Wealth can be used to buy access to politicians and to influence future laws. How the wealthy act can also influence how the middle class view poverty. If the wealthy say that hard work and determination led to their success, then the lower classes could define success in terms of hard work. Failure and poverty would be viewed as a result of laziness.

Wealth also affects the opposite end of the spectrum and can be a source to unite poorer individuals. This was evidenced in Occupy Wall Street. The protesters were united by their lack of wealth and frustration at the system that they believed was completely manipulated by the wealthy. This was not a case of the wealthy suddenly making a decision, but, rather, the culture the wealthy set in place was being challenged. Another kind of social power is fame.

Famous people can start trends and influence how others in society act, dress and speak. The power is found in the ability of the famous to spread their message. This can be found in social media, where famous people can get their fans and others to talk about issues famous individuals find to be important regardless of the popularity of the issue.

An example of this was found at the Academy Awards. John Legend used his platform, having won an Oscar, to criticize the treatment of African-Americans by law enforcement and society. His speech also began trending on many social media services, such as Twitter. While this had been a popular issue, John Legend added a new dimension by noting that the number of African-Americans in prison today dwarfed slave numbers before the American Civil War.

Without the fame that his musical success gave him, his message would not have been broadcast. Social power is a form of power that is found in society and politics.

Understanding Society: Power and social class

It can be official as evidenced by certain laws or it can be unofficial as found in social opinions and issues that famous people bring up for conversation. Social power is neither positive nor negative.

Social capital and the power of relationships: Al Condeluci at TEDxGrandviewAve

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