Sources of Power

powerIn a notable study of power conducted by social psychologists John R. P. French and Bertram Raven in 1959, power is divided into five separate and distinct forms. In 1965 Raven revised this model to include a sixth form by separating the informational power base as distinct from the expert power base.

As we know leadership and power are closely linked. This model shows how the different forms of power affect one’s leadership and success. This idea is used often in organizational communication and throughout the workforce. “The French-Raven power forms are introduced with consideration of the level of observability and the extent to which power is dependent or independent of structural conditions. Dependency refers to the degree of internalization that occurs among persons subject to social control. Using these considerations it is possible to link personal processes to structural conditions”

Explanation of Bases of Social Power of French and Raven. power2

Processes of power are pervasive, complex, and often disguised in our society. The Bases of Social Power of French and Raven is a theory that identifies five (six) bases or sources of social (organizational) power:

Reward power. This form is based on the perceived ability to give positive consequences or remove negative ones.

Coercive power. This is the perceived ability to punish those who not conform with your ideas or demands.

Legitimate power (organizational authority). This form is based on the perception that someone has the right to prescribe behaviour due to election or appointment to a position of responsibility. Also called Normative Power.

Referent power. This is power by virtue of the follower wanting to emulate the person who possesses this form of power (wanting to be like him).

Expert power/Information Power. This type is based on having distinctive knowledge, expertness, ability or skills.

The Five Bases of Social Power theory starts from the assumption that power and influence involve relations between at least two agents. The theory argues that the reaction of the receiving agent is the more useful focus for explaining the phenomena of social influence and power.

French and Raven examined the effect of power derived from the various bases of attraction and resistance to the use of power. Attraction and resistance are the recipient’s sentiment towards the agent that uses power. They conclude that the use of power from the various bases has different consequences. For example, coercive power typically decreases attraction and causes high resistance while reward power increases attraction and creates minimal levels of resistance.

French and Raven also concluded that “the more legitimate the coercion [is perceived to be], the less it will produce resistance and decreased attention”.power3



Posted in Knowledge & Beyond, Perspectives to Ponder Upon, Problematising Process, Processing Problem Soving, Wisdom Generator.