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INTRODUCTION TO SOCIOLOGY

STUDENT GUIDE

49

The ruling class in society, because of the great importance of economic power, is also able to control government, the law and courts, education, the military, and all other important aspects of society.

Poverty is at the other end of the spectrum. Marx described the worker in a very dependent position. Nothing is more important than economic survival. If one is dependent on someone else for this, then the other has control over his or her life.

This is the heart of a class society. The wealthy control the lives of the many.

To a great extent, then, it makes good sense to think of class as power. Class position brings people resources or lack of them. As long as society is a class society, there will be an inequality of power. Describing society simply as a democracy is to overlook this important fact.

Organization as Power

Weber believed that organization is a third source of power in society (in addition to authority and class). Everywhere people organize themselves.

Alone, the individual can do little; together, people can pool their resources and affect society. Of course, all such groups are not equal. Effectiveness depends on leadership, commitment, careful organization, money, numbers, and knowledge.

Three Theories of Power

Social power arises from various sources, not just one.

Power arises from authority.

Power arises from positions of leadership in organization.

Power arises from wealth (class/economic position).

Power arises from organization itself.

Modern theories of social power are built on these ideas. There are three basic theories, and each one sees a different system of power in American society. Each points to a different source of power.

Pluralism

Power is distributed throughout society among many competing organizations.

The power elite

Power is in the hands of a few people who fill certain key positions in society.

The corporate elite

Power is in the hands of a few who control the modern corporation.

Copyright © 2005 Mount Vernon Nazarene University Adult and Graduate Studies

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