In this week's N of Us, we're focussing on a single theory: French & Raven's The Social Bases of Power. Published in 1959 as a chapter in Cartwright's Studies in Social Power, this theory defines five bases of social power.
From the paper:
Our theory of social influence and power is limited to influence on the person, P, produced by a social agent, O, where O can be either another person, a role, a norm, a group, or a part of a group. We do not consider social influence exerted on a group. The influence of O on system a in the life space of P is defined as the resultant force on system a which has its source in an act of O. This resultant force induced by O consists of two components: a force to change the system in the direction induced by O and an opposing resistance set up by the same act of O. By this definition the influence of O does not include P's own forces nor the forces induced by other social agents. Accordingly the "influence" of O must be clearly distinguished from O's "control" of P. O may be able to induce strong forces on P to carry out an activity (i.e., O exerts strong influence on P); but if the opposing forces induced by another person or by P's own needs are stronger, then P will locomote in an opposite direction (i.e., O does not have control over P). Thus psychological change in P can be taken as an operational definition of the social influence of O on P only when the effects of other forces have been eliminated.
The five bases are reward (i'll give you something and you will stay loyal to me), coercive (i'll beat you up if you don't stay loyal to me), legitimate (you'll be loyal to me because you think i have the legitimate right to be in control), referent (you'll be loyal to me because the people in your reference group think I should be) and expert (you'll be loyal to me because I'm an expert and you'll believe what I have to say).
They interact. Here's how:
If a member is attracted to a group and he conforms to its norms only because he fears ridicule or expulsion from the group for nonconformity, we would call this coercive power. On the other hand if he conforms in order to obtain praise for conformity, it is a case of reward power. The basic criterion for distinguishing referent power from both coercive and reward power is the mediation of the punishment and the reward by O: to the extent that O mediates the sanctions (i.e., has means control over P) we are dealing with coercive and reward power; but to the extent that P avoids discomfort or gains satisfaction by conformity based on identification, regardless of O, we are dealing with referent power. Conformity with majority opinion is sometimes based on a respect for the collective wisdom of the group, in which case it is expert power.
They have the following hypotheses about their five bases:
For all five types, the stronger the basis of power the greater the power.
For any type of power the size of the range may vary greatly, but in general referent power will have the broadest range.
Any attempt to utilize power outside the range of power will tend to reduce the power.
A new state of a system produced by reward power or coercive power will be highly dependent on O, and the more observable P's conformity the more dependent the state. For the other three types of power, the new state is usually dependent, at least in the beginning, but in any case the level of observability has no effect on the degree of dependence.
Coercion results in decreased attraction of P toward O and high resistance; reward power results in increased attraction and low resistance.
The more legitimate the coercion the less it will produce resistance and decreased attraction.
About a decade later, Bertram Raven added Information Power to the list. He who has the information has the power.
This theory has endured for more than five decades - an impressive track record for a discipline that tends to iterate, and iterate often!