Power <debate> <long>

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Fri, 8 Mar 1996 00:12:21 +0900

Dear Friends,
Our discussion of power is moving along quite nicely. The
following are comments I have noted so far. Apologies to anyone I
may have missed.

McCreery: Power=the ability to overcome resistance.

*I'll stand by this still, with some clarifications noted below.

Ralph Holloway: "I would define power as the ability to deny
something that a person or group wants."

*I am reminded of the famous applied anthropologist
T.E.Lawrence who remarked in relation to the then Turkish
railroad through Saudi Arabia that control over an asset belongs to
the one who is willing to destroy it.

*On second thought, I am also reminded of the Marxist tradition
that sees power as a function of the state, conceived, as in essence,
a repressive apparatus."

*Both seem to me unnecessarily negative, denying the possibility
that power can ever be used for constructive purposes.

Tom Kavanaugh: "A wider view would have it as the ability to
influence the actions of others, both positively and negatively."

*I'd be willing to rephrase my own definition to power=the ability
to overcome resistance or prevent others from achieving their
goals. Strictly speaking I feel the latter is included in the former,
the reverse side of the same coin,but spelling out both possibilities
is fine by me.

*I would, however, reserve the term influence for separate

Also, "Richard N Adams distinguishes 'skill authority' --the
assignment of influence on the basis of a perceived knowledge or
skill in the matter at hand--versus 'power authority'--the
assignment of influence on some
other basis. While I like his distinction between influence based on
perceptions of skill and other kinds of influence, I do not really
like the term 'power authority'. To my mind authority is a particular
kind of power, based on a linkage with ideological premises, with what
Rappaport called Ultimate Sacred Propositions. That is, authority is
'legitimate', but not all power is legitimate."

*I speculate that influence can be usefully conceived as Adams'
'skill authority," and suggest, too, that the exercise of this kind of
power is much underestimated by intellectuals, including
anthropologists, who attribute too much efficacy to ideas per se.
My immersion in the business world has convinced me that the
ideological path from definitions of situations to prescriptions for
action in them is rarely as smooth as logic suggests it should be.
Two kinds of skills are needed to negotiate the gap between them:
(1) skill at casuistry, the intellectual art of adjusting principles to
particulars, and (2) the social skill to align interests and motivate
people to work together. Those obsessed with authority, either
abasing themselves or overreacting against it, are blind to how big
a role these skills have played in history as well as in everyday life.
History is made by Metternichs as well as Hitlers and Churchills,
and the latter were masters of the former's skills while also being
charismatic. [What are we going to do with that one?]

Tom Brunton: Another definition of power (or the origins of
power) from Lewis Binford _In Pursuit of the Past_ p.220 "power
starts when one can renege on a social relationship with

*An excellent sign that power is in play. See above.

Carter Pate: "Have you adequately specified Etzioni's
"internalization" as a source of power or legitimacy?"

*No, I haven't. Pate has a good point. Here my starting point
might be the Hegelian sequence that leads from doctrine (the
intellectual's coherent ideas) to belief (supported by institutional
apparatus) to "ritual" (here conceived as automatic behavior in
which ideas are inscribed but largely invisible until they are
challenged. Or the parallel ideas of Berger and Luckman (In_The
Social Construction of Reality_), which depict institutions
emerging in steps characterized as externalization, objectification,
and, then, internalization.

Also, says Pate "I get peeved at those who talk only about "power"
in general, without recognizing that there are several varieties. Do
they all have a common denominator?

*Overcoming resistance. See above. But also below.

Karen Kelly: "Other languages split this up into different types of
"power." In Danish, for example, I think there are two words -
kraft and macht. Kraft is sort of the power you might associate
with knowing and often seems to have a spiritual connection.
Kraft is in some ways the power that flows through you because of
what you know or are. Macht means more sort of power over or
through the threat of violence."

* Now we come to the heart of Holly's original question: We use
"power" in English as if there were some one thing it always
referred to. Karen's question reminds us that others may see
things differently. It is quite intriguing, for example, how "kraft" is
seen as the power "that flows through you" as though it were a
fluid, like the Chinese qi (Japanese ki) that passes in and out of the
body where it can, however, be concentrated or dissipated, polluted
or purified, like the water and air on which it is modeled. The
views I've sketched above lean more to information management
than these hydraulic metaphors. Are there other images that
suggest different conceptions?

John McCreery
March 8, 1996