Power Taxonomy Essay

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Power Taxonomy

French and Raven's power taxonomy contains five different types of power. These are coercive, reward, legitimate, expert and informational power. These different forms of power might have some overlap but there are elements of mutual exclusivity in these forms as well.

Legitimate power is essentially formal power, which reflects social rules. This is where somebody has a position of formal power, and has the expectation that those people subordinate will obey his or her dictates (MindTools, 2014). This is where somebody is "the boss," or otherwise in a position where society grants authority, such as a parent, teacher, judge or other position where there is some formal power ascribed to the position. There are other types of legitimate power based on social norms, such as the power of reciprocity, where somebody might expect a gift on the basis of having given one in some societies (ChangingMinds, 2013). It should be noted that legitimate power can be variable depending on one's views of formal authority. This is often a cultural trait, where in some societies formal authority has significant power. In other societies, including that of the U.S., formal authority has lower power levels (Hofstede, 2014).

Referent power comes from somebody liking you or wanting to emulate you (ChangingMinds, 2013). Celebrities and athletes, for example, have referent power. There is also some overlap with legitimate power because many people in a position of formal authority are deemed to have earned that, and therefore garner a significant amount of respect in society. Thus, they gain referent power to complement their formal authority. A good example of divergence of these powers is with the disgraced politician, who might still retain formal authority but has no referent power because he/she is no longer respected.

Reward power derives from one's ability to "compensate another for compliance" (MindTools, 2014). Thus, there is some overlap between this and legitimate power -- your boss for example -- but this power will also reflect power structures in interpersonal relationships. In many parts of the world, this form of power is quite strong, because it reflects that where people can help you or give you something you want, they will have some power over you.

Expert power reflects the power that comes from expertise. When somebody has superior skill or knowledge, this can be a source of power. There are times when this aligns with referent power -- a professor for example can have both simultaneous -- but there are other times when it exists on its own. Consider a mechanic, doctor or dentist -- some of their pricing power comes from their expert power -- you actually have to take them at their word when they recommend a course of action.

The final type of power is coercive. This is the power to force somebody to do something against their will. The proverbial gun to the head might be literal, giving someone coercive power, like Putin is trying to do in Crimea with the Ukrainian government. Coercive power, it is noted, is also used by parents to discipline their children and to maintain law and order in a country (for example, sending people to jail). There is overlap with legitimate power and sometimes with referent power. It can be used with reward power (the carrot and stick approach). Even experts can have this power -- smart people can mess with you -- but these two power forms seldom go together. Because of its flexibility, there are few instances where coercive power is mutually exclusive to all other forms of power -- but certainly the kidnapper holding a gun to your head would qualify. Mutual exclusivity among power forms tends to be contextual, however, so it is best not to assume in absolutes with respect to the different types of power.

2. Not having been around in 1959 to note the reaction to French and Raven when they released their power taxonomy makes it more difficult to see how views of this have changed over time. What is known is that the power taxonomy is still used -- not bad for a qualitative theory 55 years old -- and that it has been subject to a lot of analysis and scrutiny. I have already noted how…[continue]

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