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What is power? Discuss the instrument of power?

The phenomenon of power attained focus among the social scientists especially
after French revolution. Being one of influential persons in French revolution,
Rousseaus writings reflected a critical view on power. Later, the concept of power
was studied by many social scientists, including political scientists, sociologists,
psychologists, economists etc. which added various dimensions to the concepts of
From the existing writings on power, we can define the concept as, an ability of
individual or group to carry out its wishes or policies to control, manipulate, or
influence of the behavior of others, whether they wish to co-operate or not. The
agents who possess power in this context have the resources to force his or her will
on others.
The writings of Max Weber were the first to provide different sociological dimensions
related to power. Webers writings on power are crucial to understand the difference
between power and authority in the contexts of different social relations. The
sources of power like, wealth, muzzle power, political positions, military, state
institutions etc give people access to the power. The access to power through these
sources gives the authority to the person to perform the power for different
The writings of Ralf Dahrendorf are important to understand legitimate power and
illegitimate power. Similar kind of action related to power can be legitimate and
illegitimate, according to who perform it or on what circumstances the action has
performed. If state for instance performs violent actions on an individual or a group,
it can be a legitimate action on the ground of national interests. However, similar
action cannot perform by a citizen against another citizen since he or she not comes
under the purview of the state authority. Existing social norms also give legitimate
powers to some persons or a group. Consider the examples of the Khap Panchayath
of Haryana where, the heads of the community has given the authority to perform
violence on its members.
From the existing theories and notions on power, we can understand the concept of
power in two ways. Some scholars consider power as a simple quantitative
phenomenon. It refers to the generalized capacity to act. This school of thought
considers power from the actions of the individuals or group who possess the power
ignoring its consequences on the victims. The writings of Hobbes and John Lock are
the example of this school of thought.
The second view on power consider power as both an capacity to act as well as the
right to act; which derive from the consent of those over whom power is exercised.
Writings of Foucault on power is crucial to understand this perspective on power.
Some scholars further tend to consider power as a zero-sum concept. They
maintain that, if one party possess and use the power, others will naturally loose

the power. On the contrary, some scholars like Talcott Parsons maintain that, both
the possessors of power and the subjects of power can also obtain power but may
be in varying proportion.

Instruments of powers
Scholars have identified various instruments of power through which the
performance of power can be mediated. They are as follows;
Coercive or condign power
Power in this context would be performed against the will of the person using
physical force, threatening, intimidation, physical and mental harassment,
bargaining etc. The fear about the consequences prevents the victim of denying or
resisting the attempt of the person or group which impose this kind of power on
them. Most occasions, the performer of this kind of power would be an
unquestionable authority.
Compensatory power
Compensatory power involves performing of power on a subject by giving adequate
compensation.. Unlike the coercive power where, person unwillingly have to accept
the action of those who acquire power, in compensatory power, persons willingly or
unwillingly accept the proposal because the compensatory benefit make the
persons to agreed upon the conditions. The land acquisition procedures in different
parts of the country can be a better example in this regard.
Conditioned power
In this, people are processed or conditioned to be remain as a subjugator of the
dominant groups in the society. In the process of conditioning, in the everyday
practices or in the normal consciousness of the people would not feel or understand
that, whether they are been subjugated by any group. Through media, text books
and socialization, the various exploitative practices are permeated and normalized
in the everyday life of the people. The term hegemonic practices put forward by
Antonio gramsci better explains this phenomenon. The everyday patriarchal
practices through which the women are been subjugated and made vulnerable, has
been one of the area, which sociologists explore by referring this kind of power.
Thus, the concept of power and its instrument has been using extensively in
sociology to explain every day social actions. In fact, the writings or Rousseau and
other started to explore the concept of power to explain the reproductive practices

of inequality, especially through the relationship between the king and its subjects.
Later sociology has developed the concept of power as a device to understand the
complex relations in everyday life which are largely influenced by power relations.

Coser, Lewis A. and Bernard Rosenberg. (eds), Sociological theory: a book of
readings, London: McMillen Company