Power and Authority - Political Science - Lecture Slides, Slides for Political Science. Ambedkar University, Delhi
raheem31 December 2012

Power and Authority - Political Science - Lecture Slides, Slides for Political Science. Ambedkar University, Delhi

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Power and Authority, Legitimacy, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, Desired Outcome, Power Over, Drawing Attention, Real World, Behaviour, Decision Making are some points of this lecture.
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KAY 114 Introduction to Political Science II

Introduction to Political Science II

Power , Authority & Legitimacy


Definition of Power

• In the natural sciences: ‘force’ or ‘energy’. • In the social sciences:

A) the ability to achieve a desired outcome,

sometimes referred to as power to. B) a relationship as the exercise of control by one

person over another, or as power over.


Steven Lukes’s Definition in Power: A Radikal View

if A gets B to do something A wants but which B would not have chosen to do, power is being exercised.


• In other words, power is the ability to get someone to do what they would not otherwise have done.

• • But Lukes’s distinctions are nevertheless of

value in drawing attention to how power is exercised in the real world, to the various ways in which A can influence B’s behaviour.


The Three Faces of Power

• These are some kind of ways that how power exercised in real life. – [Decision Making] Power can involve the ability to

influence the making of decisions. – [Agenda Setting] Power may be reflected in the capacity to

shape the political agenda and thus prevent decisions being made.

[Thought Control] Power may take the form of controlling people’s thoughts by the manipulation of their perceptions and preferences.


Decision-making  It dates back to Thomas Hobbes’s suggestion that

power is the ability of an ‘agent’ to affect the behaviour of a ‘patient’.

 This notion is in fact analogous to the idea of physical

or mechanical power, in that it implies that power involves being ‘pulled’ or ‘pushed’ against one’s will.

 This argument’s classic statement can be found in

Robert Dahl’s ‘A Critique of the Ruling Elite Model’ (1958) and it has been central to conventional political science.


 Power is concentrated in the hands of a “ruling elite” and this group treated power as the ability to influence the decision making process.

 The attraction of this treatment of

power is that it corresponds to the commonsense belief that power is somehow about getting things done, and is therefore most clearly reflected in decisions and how they are made.


Agenda setting  The Two Faces of Power (1962) by P. Bachrach and M.

Baratz which describes power by a non-decision making perspective as the second face of power.

 They also accepted that the power is reflected in the

decision-making process but brought a new perspective to the concept.

 This form of power is the ability to set the political agenda.  This kind is difficult – but not impossible – idetify, requaring

as it does an understanding of the dynamics of non- decision-making.


 Whereas the decision-making approach to power encourages attention to focus upon the active participation of groups in the process, non-decisions highlight the importance of political organization in blocking the participation of certain groups and the expression of particular opinions.

 In the view of Bachrach and Baratz, any adequate

understanding of power must take full account of ‘the dominant values and the political myths, rituals and institutions which tend to favour the vested interests of one or more groups, relative to others’.


• The analysis of power as non-decision-making has often generated elitist rather than pluralist conclusions. Bachrach and Baratz, for instance, pointed out that the ‘mobilization of bias’ in conventional politics normally operates in the interests of what they call ‘status quo defenders’, privileged or elite groups.


Thought Control  In reality, no human being possesses an entirely independent mind;

the ideas, opinions and preferences of all are structured and shaped by social experience, through the influence of family, peer groups, school, the workplace, the mass media, political parties and so forth.

 So, the third face of power is in relationship with this reality and defines the power as the ability of A to exercise power over B, not by getting B to do what he would not otherwise do, but, in by influencing, shaping or determining his very wants’.

 Some of the thinkers that can be placed in this type of power are

Steven Lukes, Herbert Marcuse, some Marxist (and New Left) theorist, Michel Foucault etc.


 Marcuse argues in One Dimensional Man that advanced industrial societies control people through the pervasive manipulation of needs, made possible by modern technology. This created what Marcuse called ‘a comfortable, smooth, reasonable, democratic unfreedom’. In such circumstances, the absence of conflict in society may not attest to general contentment and a wide dispersal of power.


 A central theme in the radical view of power is the distinction between truth and falsehood, reflected in the difference between subjective or ‘felt’ interests, and objective or ‘real’ interests.

 For Marx and ortodox Marxists, the power of the bourgeoisie is ideological, as well as economic and political. In Marx’s view, the dominant ideas, values and beliefs of any society are the ideas of its ruling class. Thus the proletariat as the exploited class is deluded by the weight of bourgeois ideas and theories and comes to suffer from “false consciousness’.


• Postmodern thinkers influenced in particular by the writings of Michel Foucault, have also drawn attention to the link between power and systems of thought through the idea of a ‘discourse of power’.


• Discourses are a form of power in that they set up antagonisms and structure relations between people, who are defined as subjects or objects, as ‘insiders’ or ‘outsiders’.

• Postmodern theorists come close to seeing power as ubiquitous, all systems of knowledge being viewed as manifestations of power.



Politics’ traditional concern is the exercise of power; however it is often more narrowly interested in the phenomenon called ‘authority’, and especially ‘political authority’.

Authority is a form of power but they are

distinguished from one another as contrasting means through which compliance or obedience is achieved.


• power can be defined as the ability to influence the behaviour of another,

• authority can be understood as the right to influence the behaviour of another,


 Authority is an important topic for modern sociology and Max Weber is one of them who concerned to explain why, and under what circumstances, people were prepared to accept the exercise of power as rightful or legitimate.

 He defined authority simply as a matter of people’s belief

about its rightfulness, regardless of where that belief came from and whether or not it is morally justified.

 Weber’s approach treats authority as a form of power;

authority is ‘legitimate power’, power cloaked in legitimacy


 A final difficulty in clarifying the meaning of authority arises from the contrasting uses of the term. People can be described as being either ‘in authority’ or ‘an authority’.

 To describe a person as being in authority is to refer to his or her

position within an institutional hierarchy. A teacher, policeman, civil servant, judge or minister exercises authority in precisely this sense. They are office-holders whose authority is based upon the formal ‘powers’ of their post or position.

 To be described as an authority is to be recognised as possessing

superior knowledge or expertise, and to have one’s views treated with special respect as a result.


Kinds of Authority

 The most influential attempt to categorize types of authority was undertaken by Max Weber

 He constructed three ‘ideal-

types’, which he accepted were only conceptual models but which, he hoped, would help to make sense of the highly complex nature of political rule.


Traditional Authority  Weber suggested that in traditional societies authority

is based upon respect for long-established customs and traditions.

 Traditional authority is regarded as legitimate because

it has ‘always existed’ and was accepted by earlier generations.

 The most obvious examples of traditional authority are

found amongst tribes or small groups, in the form of ‘patriarchalism’ and ‘gerontocracy’.


Charismatic Authority  This form of authority is based entirely upon the power of

an individual’s personality, his or her ‘charisma’.  Charismatic authority owes nothing to a person’s status,

social position or office, and everything to his or her personal qualities and, in particular, the ability to make a direct and personal appeal to others.  Charismatic authority should not be think simply as a gift or

natural propensity. Political leaders often try to ‘manufacture’ charisma, either by cultivating their media image and sharpening their oratorical skills or, in orchestrating an elaborate ‘cult of personality’ through the control of a propaganda machine.


Legal – Rational Authority

This was the most important kind of authority since, in Weber’s view  the dominant mode of organisation within

modern industrial societies.  Legal-rational authority was characteristic of

the large-scale, bureaucratic organizations that had come to dominate modern society.


 Legal-rational authority operates through the existence of a body of clearly defined rules; in effect, legal-rational authority attaches entirely to the office and its formal ‘powers’, and not to the office-holder.

 Legal-rational authority arises out of respect for

the ‘rule of law’, in that power is always clearly and legally defined, ensuring that those who exercise power do so within a framework of law.



• Legitimacy is usually defined simply as ‘rightfulness’. • Legitimacy is the quality that transforms naked power

into rightful authority; it confers upon an order or command an authoritative or binding character, ensuring that it is obeyed out of duty rather than because of fear.

• The terms of legitimacy and authority sometimes be used synonymously; however people are said to have authority whereas it is political systems that are described as legitimate.


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