Power and Its Relationship to the Social Sciences

Power is the capacity to control the conduct of individuals through the real or threatened use of rewards and punishments. It is based on the control of valued resources and is unequally distributed. It is exercised in interpersonal relationships and through large institutions. Its resources are wealth and authority and relates to the six disciplines of social sciences. The following are three definitions of the social sciences and a discussion of their relationships to power.

Anthropology is the study of people and their ways of life. Their cultural pattern determines their power relationships. Anthropological research makes it clear that power relationships can exist in the simplest forms in the most primitive societies, and that no society is void a power structure. The Eskimo culture is a perfect example in which leadership positions are rare or lacking but still maintain some form of power structure.

Leadership only resides within the primary family upon which is shared by husband and wife. Conflicts within the village are often resolved by song sessions in which the disputants lampoon each other. This type of power system can be attributed to living in a harsh environment.

Sociology is the study of relationships among individuals and groups. Power derives from social status, prestige, and respect as well as from control of economic resources. The classification and ranking of members of society is an example of the unequal distribution of power.

Psychology is the study of behavior of people and animals. Some psychologists focus on specific areas such as the organized behavior that characterize an individual in relationship to power. (The authoritarian personality) This type of study gives psychologists insight into personality traits that might produce a ruthless leader such as Adolph Hitler.

Power runs through all of society. It is not a concept that exclusively limited to the realm of government. It is a real factor that affects the lives of each of us. We experience it in our families, schools, and jobs. We rationalize and justify power as a necessary way of life. It is a worldwide practice and all societies take part in it.

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