Earlier this week I wrote a lengthy blog which set out the argument that when analysing and seeking to understand power and power relations (and who has it and why) particularly from the perspective of decision/policy making (i.e. who gets what, when and how – which is what public policy essentially boils down to) we see power operating across three dimensions: decision making, non-decision making (sometimes also referred to as ‘agenda setting’), and as a “deep” structure that conditions decision making through such features as ‘social myths, language, and symbols and how they are manipulated in power processes.’
I also mentioned that various typologies of ‘bases’ or sources of power have been developed over the decades. These have frequently been put together by authors who have a particular interest in power and power relations in organisations, not least because ‘Power and influence make up the fine texture of organisations….’ As Charles Handy succinctly put it in Understanding Organisations way back in 1976.
Handy usefully went on to point out the distinction between power and influence – one worth keeping in mind when discussing the subject: ‘Influence is the process whereby A seeks to modify the attitudes or behaviour of B. Power is that which enables him to do so.’ Or in the language of my earlier blog, power is possession of a capacity to act. That is, a source of power.
No doubt many of us have our own ideas about what constitutes a source or base of power. So, building on from Handy’s work I thought it might be useful to share an example of a typology, also taken from a highly influential book on organisations – Gareth Morgan’s Images of Organization (2006). Morgan’s typology is useful because it is immediately obvious that many of these sources of power apply more widely than simply in the context of an organisation. As such this is a list that serves as a useful starting point for any exploration and discussion of power and power relation in pretty much any setting. Note however, that this is a list of sources of what is usually referred to a ‘social’ power. To this we can add sources of economic and military power, and so on.
- formal authority
- control of scarce resources
- use of organisational structure, rules and regulations
- control of decision processes
- control of knowledge and information
- control of boundaries
- ability to cope with uncertainty
- control of technology
- interpersonal alliances, networks, and control of ‘informal organisation’
- control of counter organisations
- symbolism and the management of meaning
- gender and the management of gender relations
- structural factors that define the stage of action