Human beings have needs and are capable of choosing and pursuing appropriate means to in order the achieve these needs. This is often called a motivational model of human society: people are social animals that seek to achieve goals and often need to work cooperatively in order to achieve them. Power is broadly defined as the ability to pursue and attain goals through mastery of one’s environment. Power is an emergent need, that is, it emerges as an efficient (often organisational) means of fulfilling human needs.
Power can be seen as Power To (mastery over own conditions and environment), Power With (working in cooperation with others- family/community/organisation), Power Against (again, cooperatively against someone/another group) or Power Over.
In conflict, specifically in defining power relations and how they impact on relationships, we are often looking at Power Over. In that instance, we can define Power as the capacity of a person (or organisation) to produce intended effects on others. There are many theories and definitions of power, but in order to analyse relationships between individuals, groups, organisations and the State (which has the ultimate source of power in Ireland).
Social power restricts the meaning of power as mastery over other people. Power is the probability that one actor in a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance and use that power to produce intended effects on others.
For Power Over relations, power is asymmetrical & exploitative, as in one person (or group) has power and it is a distributive term: as in A has power over B (A>B). In collective (Power Over or Power Against) people work in cooperation to enhance their power over 3rd parties or indeed nature. In most social relationships, there are both distributive and collective, exploitative and functional operating at same time & intertwined.
Over time as societies develop, institutionalisation is necessary to achieve routine collective goals and thus distribute power, that is social stratification becomes an institutionliased feature of social life. Social stratification is the overall creation and distribution of power in society
Power relations are complex. In conflict situations, some people react to sources of power and often look to build up and counter that power in other ways. It is important for Traveller projects to build up their analysis of power in relation to conflict, not only in relation to Traveller conflict, but also in importantly in our work with Statutory agencies, and ultimately how our power base can be built up in the future.
One of the most comprehensive analysis of power is provided by Dennis Wrong (www.books.google.ie/books) and this framework of defining types of power is developed on that basis.
Most people define power as force or violence- but Power is much more complex than that. Whilst studying power is complicated, in order to develop an ITM conflict analysis it is not necessary to understand all the intricacies, but important to identify power in ways other than force.
When talking about power there are always at least two actors: the power holder and the power subject. The motivations of power holder/subject are, like all human relationships, complex and interlinked. Like any attempt to look at societies, there are so many causes (multicausality) that it is almost impossible to element the “most important” element. Life is always messier than our theories- but it is important to have an analytical framework to look at power in some form.
Types of Power
Power is something whereby the Power holder (individual or organisational) creates an intended effect on a person/group of people. Therefore only intended effects relate to power. The types of power relate to why people comply- so it is based on the responses of the power subject
Categories of power
Force is commonly referred to as physical force. This is where a person (or organised group of people, including the State) create physical obstacles restricting the freedom of another, including the infliction of bodily pain/injury (including destruction of life) and the frustration of basic biological needs which much be satisfied if the capacity for voluntary choice & action is to remain unimpaired.
Force involves treating a human being as no more than a physical object. The ultimate form of force is violence. However there can be non-violent use of force: for example, a protest using direct action can be seen as a form of force if it blocks traffic. Union members occupying their workplace causing a stoppage are also using non-violent force.
Apart from violence, force can be the denial of food or in extreme cases sleep/rest (which has happens under torture conditions to prisoners). Force can be used to destroy people’s belongings and property and also when economic sanctions are applied reducing people’s capacity to access their needs.
Some researchers suggest that the use of, especially for State power, rather than being the ultimate manifestation of power is evidence of power breaking down. At an individual level, use of force often is used as a last resort or when people lack other forms of power.
One of the reasons for this is that force more effective in preventing people from acting then in causing them to act in a given way: it is by its nature destructive but cannot convince or manipulate others to achieve complex positive results
Force is often employed not just to eliminate someone’s capacity to act but to establish in the mind holders willingness to use force, in effect, to create, recreate a power relation based not on force, but threat and fear of force
Force is not just physical violence (damage to body or objects) but can also be psychic: where by the intention of the Power Holder is to damage the power subject’s emotions, feelings self worth either verbally or in symbolic ways. Psychic violence is insulting and degrading and includes the defamation of entire ethnic groups- which Travellers will unfortunately only be too aware of, suffering wide ranging effects of institutionalised racism. The aim of psychic violence is to inflict emotional damage, and we can see that it is similar to physical violence.
Manipulation is where the power holder conceals intent from power subject. B is not aware of A’s intention to influence him but A does get B to follow his wishes, this is an instance of manipulation. So any attempt to influence someone else to get them to do something whereby this aim has not been explicitly communicated is manipulation. This exercise of power is unlikely to provoke a response as the power subject is unaware of the effect to influence him: in fact, someone who has been successfully manipulated may actually believe they have made a choice based on their own free will. It is also the form of power that is the hardest to counter, as there is no command to disobey. Examples of manipulation are political propaganda and commercial advertising.
Manipulation can also be achieved by altering someone’s environment so that their choices they make are those the power holder wishes- in some cases, the non-delivery of accommodation for Travellers and the limited options presented to Travellers means they have been manipulated into “choosing” private rented.
Persuasion is where the power holder presents arguments and appeals to the power subject. If after evaluating the content in light of their own values & goals, accepts the power holder’s analysis and communication and then the power subject modifies their behaviour, they have been successfully persuaded.
Most of us are clear on what persuasion is- but would be less clear on it being a basis of power. What we need to consider is that as individuals differ in their persuasive skills, talents (articulation, oratorical skills, intelligence) it means that this is a power resource unequally distributed, and hence some people can use their skills to achieve other aims.
The power of persuasion can also be seen in the access to resources to convince many people through persuasion, such as access to mainstream media.
Where as persuasion is presentation of an argument, authority is about issuing commands. In persuasion power subjects evaluate what the power holder is telling them and decide to do what is put to them- Authority as a source of power means people accept judgement without evaluating arguments or rationale. Authority either orders or forbids people to do things. There are different forms of authoritve power, but all of them are based on the premise that commands are made, accepted by power subjects and behaviour is modified based on these commands (or resisted)
Coercion is obedience exacted by threats of force, which distinguishes it from force itself (although they are linked). For A to obtain B’s compliance by threatening him with force, B must be convinced of both A’s capability and willingness to use force. When such methods are unsuccessful in cowing others into compliance, an actual test of force may be necessary to establish in the mind of the power subject the credibility of the power holder’s ability and readiness to apply force successfully.
A coercer may succeed without possessing either the capability or the intention of using force, so long as the power subjects believes he possesses both- for example, someone robbing a bank with a fake gun.
The counterpoint of coercive power is inducement, whereby the power holder gets to produce an intended effect on the power holder by offering a reward for compliance. Inducement employs a positive reward for compliance with a command: for example, A promises B a reward or service in return for B’s performance of an action desired by A. In many domestic relationships, men have exerted power over women by withholding economic rewards.
In more extensive power relationships, people with power (or organisations) control the means of subsistence necessary for the very survival of others, leading to economic exploitation.
Just as application of force may make its continued application unnecessary- the threat of force can be enough for people to comply (coercion), over time if people are used to receiving a reward for compliance, the threat of withdrawal can also be experienced as coercion rather than inducement: this is one case where Power can transfer from its original form to another
Power analysts view coercion is the basis of political power (given the power of the state through criminal justice system, police forces/armies) and inducement as the basis of economic power
Power relation in which the power holder possesses an acknowledged right to command and the power subject an acknowledged obligation to obey. The source rather than the content endows it with legitimacy- and includes willing compliance. It presupposes shared norms- not prescribing the content of the command, they prescribe the obedience within limits irrespective of the content. Classic examples are the hierarchical command structures within the military- a soldier is expected to follow orders even if it puts her/his life at risk.
Legitimate authority is based on shared norms within a larger group- it could be that people join an organisation and sign up to a code of practice- and accept that these ground rules or face expulsion. Legitimate authority also extends to family and community norms- expectations of parental or gender roles, for example.
Personal authority is where the power subject obeys out of desire to please serve the power holder. It is a non-institutionalised relation between a person. It is not based on the power subjects’ fear of coercion, expectation of reward or expert advice- merely on love, admiration or friendship of person- including charisma- whereby someone “believes” in the power holder and acts on their wishes to please them.
Competent authority is based on source rather than content. The power subjects believes in the competence of the individual. A classic example is when a Doctor gives advice. A patient does what the Doctor tells them, not because the Doctor tries to persuade that this is the best course of action- the patient assumes that the Doctor knows best. This competence is implied through the title of office not on demonstrated competence- patients don’t see the Doctor successfully treat other patients and accept advice on that basis. In most cases, the knowledge/skill/expertise available to power holders are for the subject’s benefits- however, this is not the case for every professional competent authority .
It has been noted, given the extreme professionalisation of many aspects of service delivery, that professionals have a status which can grant them immunity from analysis and criticism- and thus competent authority gives power not only over people but in controlling the definitions of what they work on and how they perform their work.
Within Traveller groups, people employed or activists will have power as competent authorities in relation to advocacy, which like all forms of power, is subject to be abused over others.
Difficulties in defining power in real life situations
How can we tell, whether taking the third side, or as power holders or subjects, what the real motives have been for complying with a power holder- especially if the power holder has multiple forms of power?
A power subject may feel that they have acted as they have been persuaded by a convincing argument (persuasion), but perhaps they were swayed by the charisma (personal authority) of the power holder, rather than the value of their argument, or if it is a professional, perhaps it was their implied mastery of the subject (competent authority). A Doctor’s bedside manner (personal authority) may convince a patient to change their lifestyle more than their medical credentials (competent authority). Does someone not break the law as they believe it is their role as a citizen to obey the rules (legitimate authority) or because they fear what will happen if they break the rules (coercion).
A classic example of the shifting nature of power can be seen in the parent/child relationship- which is the most comprehensive and intensive form of power in human experience. If we think of an example whereby a parent wants a child do something the child does not want to do, various forms of power can be used
- If the parent is patient, it can try and reason why the child should do this: “this food is so good for you, it will make you big & strong” (persuasion)
- If that fails, a reward or threat of removing a reward can be made: “if you eat your dinner, you can have ice cream afterwards” (inducement)
- If that fails, the parent can let them know “As an adult, I know what is best for you” (competent authority)
- If that fails, the parent can issue an order as the parent where there is a shared cultural norm that children do what their parents tell them “do it, as your mother/father I am telling you” (legitimate authority)
- If that fails, the parent can threaten that further defiance will lead to consequences: “if you don’t eat that, you are not going outside to play” (coercion)
- Failing that, if the parent cannot get what it wants the child to do, the parent may physically stop the child going out to play (force)
- In this instance, and many others in social interactions, the defiance of power may become the real issue, overshadowing original disagreement.
Power is complex, but also power is combined in many instances. For example, Michael Mann argues that organised social power can be categorized as Ideological (human need for searching for meaning in life, norms and values), Economic, Military (including police forces) and Political- which over time have coalesced into a singular unit of power: the Nation State. For any power holder, individual or organisation, it is to their advantage of a power holder to extend and diversify the forms of power he exercises over a given power subject. However, combining different forms of power isn’t without difficulties. Whether by an individual or a body like the State, power subjects recognise the disconnect when power holders try to combine persuasive & moral appeals with an implicit threat (“this is good for you/for society but if you don’t…”)
Also, if a power holder has actually escalated from persuasion to force, the difficulty of restoring a relation based on persuasion or legitimate authority may be considerable, although even this occurs often enough in domestic situations regularly.
For extensive power relations (state power) the assumption that the many power subjects will all respond in the same way and treated as a single power subject is unrealistic. In this instance the power holder needs to be capable of exercising multiple forms of power to control them and builds up great accumulations of power to Cajole, Reward, Convert and Coerce the many power subjects which they deal in diverse situations.