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INTRODUCTION TO SOCIOLOGY

STUDENT GUIDE

47

It is society’s rules and lines that create the boundaries between what is and what is not deviant; it is the perception of “too much individuality” that makes people upset enough to define something or someone as deviant.

Chapter 10: Social Power

The Meaning of Social Power

Social power, like social order, is one of those terms we all use but rarely define. In fact, the more we try to define it, the more the concept seems to elude us. Weber wrote, that power has something to do with “achieving one’s will.” and that is a good place to begin.

People who have power achieve their will in relation to others. When they want something, they get it; they win in the relationship. Weber believed that social power accompanies social action—so, therefore, power is an element of a willful act; it accompanies an intentional attempt to achieve one’s will or to get one’s way.  

Authority

Amos Hawley wrote: “Every social act is an exercise of power, every social relationship is a power equation, and every social group or system is an organization of power.”

Although for many of us, power is something that sounds bad, it is an inherent part of all social life.

Max Weber’s insights on authority are very important. Weber pointed out that power can arise from many different bases, or resources. Our power may be based on fear, money, or promises, for example. Nothing is as permanent and stable, however, as authority: position in organization regarded by others as legitimate.

When rulers overthrow others, what do they immediately seek? Legitimacy.

Legitimacy means that someone (because of position in organization) has the right to command others, and others have an obligation to obey.

Authority is power based on the resource we might call legitimate position.

Those in high position in traditional organization have three important resources:

Legitimacy

Tradition

The organization

To disobey authority is to disobey position, tradition, and to be disloyal to organization.

Weber presents three types of authority:

Traditional

Based on the belief in the sanctity of tradition, of “the eternal yesterday.” It is not codified in impersonal rules, but inheres in particular persons who may either inherit it or be invested with it by a higher authority

Copyright © 2005 Mount Vernon Nazarene University Adult and Graduate Studies

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