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Power Essay, Research Paper


There are three primary frameworks pertaining to the subject of power: Consensus/Pluralism, Elitism, and Class. Through the course of this class, we have seen evidence that one or more of these frameworks have been at work for a very long time in both America and Latin America. These frameworks attempt to explain how and why power is distributed in society. They examine the ways in which we distribute power regarding to status measures including, but not limited to, money, job, material possession, family name, social association, and political association. These frameworks examine power in order to explain societal interaction at every level, focusing on highly visible interaction, but applicable nonetheless on all levels.

The level at which I will attempt to examine the distribution of power is my household. This setting is small, but an excellent chance to apply the aforementioned frameworks to personal experience, bringing home their ideas, and testing their value on the small levels not always considered in the class setting.

In order to examine the applicability of these frameworks, we must first have an understanding of what these frameworks assert. Following will be a concise look at each framework, highlighting the main points of each. Not completely exhaustive, this look will be an attempt to set up the case study of power to follow.


This framework is based in the belief that power is dispersed among many competing interest groups. The dispersion of power leads to compromise for the good of all. This is not a framework of communism, but rather that of shared values; an agreement on what is good. This is not a framework of complete compromise, looking out for everyone, ensuring that each is as privileged as another, but more of a realization that not one person or group can have complete control. Therefore we see a form of consensus, where each group s role is understood at some level of importance, but not at a level far above or below that of another. Pluralists do not recognize the existence of an integrated power elite. They believe in the competition between many powerful groups, none of which strong enough to monopolize power. Social pluralism refers to a society compromising diverse ethnic, religious, racial and other social groups.

Some Pluralists include Aristotle, S. M. Lipset, David Truman, and Robert Dahl. According to Lipset, Pluralism is manifested in American society by the stress, and consequential tension between equality and achievement. Truman asserts that everyone is part of groups, said groups having two types of power: 1) over it s members, leading to conformity, and 2) over other groups. The attempt to access limited resources by these groups creates competition, a tenet of Pluralism. In Politics, Aristotle eluded to a pluralist political community in which autonomy, decentralization, hierarchy, tradition, and locality are key characteristics. He also asserted that there are three ways to be ruled: 1) Monarchy Rule by one, 2) Aristocracy Rule by a few, and 3) Democracy Rule by many. Democracy, Aristotle argued, is effective and ideal because of the dispersing effect it has on power. When rule is allotted to competing groups, no group will be able to monopolize power in such a way that equality will not be possible.


This framework is based on the belief that power is concentrated in the hands of a few people or groups that make crucial decisions. Elitists deny the existence of ruled by one , or ruled by many scenarios, arguing that ruled by few is always the case. According to Elitists, society consists of the elite and the masses, the elite characterized by power and privilege, the masses by being ruled. In Elitists theory, there are three basic types of national elites. The first type is divided and competitive, characterized by ruthlessness, violence, and conflict within the elite. This type of elite is often found when society is divided along highly personal issues like religion and ethnicity (e.g., the former Yugoslavia). The second type is unified in purpose and policy, with common ideology, and structured to attain goals set by the elite (e.g., Nazi Germany). The third is competitive but unified, though not to the extent to which the second type is unified. There are many conflicting views, but extreme positions are avoided to avoid conflict over public policy (e.g., the United States).

Some Elitists are Max Weber and William Domhoff. Domhoff s work includes an extensive look at what he calls the small ruling class . Domhoff s ruling class is socially exclusive, comprised of powerful owners of large corporations and banks and political figures. Domhoff asserts that this ruling class has retained it s power by being socially cohesive, highly involved in the corporate world, and having policy influence. It remains socially cohesive by being part of a private education system, being members of socially exclusive clubs, through marriage, and through the work that they do. The ruling class has remained highly involved in the corporate world by interconnecting their corporations through banks, law firms, consulting firms, and by retaining the same values. An Inner Group of Boards of Directors is also important here, as individuals may connect corporations by sitting on multiple boards. The ruling class has asserted policy influence by developing policy organizations such as foundations for research, think tanks, policy discussion groups, and public education such as public service announcements, and by dominating the federal government through funding the candidate selection stage, funding the special interest process, and controlling government appointees. The main point of Domhoff s assertions is that the ruling class creates access for itself on all levels of power. Access to resources is key to the assertions of Elitists that only a few own the power in our society.


This framework is based on the belief that those who control the means of production rule society. The institution of property and class relation becomes important in understanding the relationship between society and the state.

An important class theorist is Karl Marx. He described the economic system as the mode of production , comprised of the forces of production and the social relations of production . This mode of production serves as the material base and the infrastructure of society, determining the nonmaterial aspects as well. According to Marx, the mode of production includes 1)the means to satisfy human needs and wants, 2)the institutional arrangements to satisfy these needs, 3)the goods of production, and 4)a set of interpersonal relationships (Kourvetaris, 1997). This all leads to the conflict between the owners of production and the proletariat. This assertion is supported, Marxists say, by the occurrence of the French Revolution.


As eluded to before, I believe that it is important for one to apply what is asserted to be true on the societal level to personal experience, to test it against what can be personally observed each day. Because I believe this way, I have chosen to attempt to test the merits of some of these theories to my everyday experience of living in a household of college students. The way in which power is distributed in this house is often tough to discern, but the basics of it can be traced to some of the major theories.

I should begin with an introduction of the people I will discuss. Brian is the oldest of the group at 23, his brother Brandon, Jason, and myself are all 21, and Luke is 20. All of us come from similar homes, but are from different parts of the country. Brandon and Brian come from Oregon, Luke from Chicago, Jason from California, and myself from Arizona. We have many common interests, such as music and sports, and share generally similar ideas about what is right and wrong. We were all raised in two-parent homes, and all have a high regard for family. We all attempt to look out for each other. We are a close-nit bunch with few secrets.

I must also begin with a definition of what I consider power in this household. The three main areas of power in this household that I have chosen to focus on are 1)the handling of financial situations, 2)the influence on group decisions, and 3)the amount of respect commanded. Let me expand. The handling of financial situations is a touchy subject for five college-aged guys: none of us want to be in control of everyone else s money, nor do we want to take responsibility for the house by putting our name on bills, etc. The influence of group decisions is important because of the frequency with which we have to make decisions together, and certain conflict that will ensue. By the amount of respect commanded, I mean to say the extent to which a person s privacy, personal belongings, and opinions are respected.

The handling of financial situations as aforementioned, is a touchy subject. All of us being aged between 20 and 23 years, we all rely heavily on our parents to help us out, but also must work to pay the bills. As in the Elitist model, the amount of money one has access to is important in allotting power, as well as who handles the money. Luke has access to the most money in the house. He is the only one who does not work, but has a near unlimited resource of money in his parents. Jason works the most in the house, and has access to the second largest amount of money. Brian, Brandon and myself all work similar schedules, having access to similar amounts of money. The burden of bill collecting falls on Jason s shoulders. This gives him a certain amount of power in the house, because he determines what bills need to be paid, when they need to be paid, and how much each of us owe. We all respect Jason for controlling this unenviable task, as none of us would want to do it. This is also a source of tension in the house, and because Jason s name is on the bills, he gets a lot of the blame when things go wrong, bills go unpaid, etc. Power is Jason s, however, because the responsibility is his.

The influence on group decisions is a hard thing to quantify, but can be witnessed nonetheless. It would be my assumption that age would play a big role in this area, but unlike any of the frameworks studied, seniority plays no role here. Among the five of us, Luke is by far the best student. We all repeatedly marvel at his diligence and hard work. I believe this has an empowering effect for Luke, as we all view him as a little smarter, or at least more able to handle tougher tasks. In this way, I believe Luke has a lot of power in our house because of the influence he is allowed on our decisions. We even jokingly refer to him as Dad , because he sometimes is seen as the voice of reason, the one who knows the right way for everything. After Luke, the power of influence is distributed fairly evenly, with the eldest of the group, Brian, probably receiving the least consideration because of his tendency to exaggerate and miss the point. As in all group settings, however, there is power in numbers. If a majority of us is leaning in one direction, it is likely that the rest will follow. On that same note, those of us who are connected in some way by similar association or interest often dominate influence and power. Specifically, Brandon and Brian being brothers is important because more times than not, they will side with each other. Just as in Domhoff s Elite model, Jason and Brandon working for the same company has a binding effect for them. That gives them power in the decision-making area because of their tendency to join forces.

The amount of respect a person commands in this household is also a tough thing to quantify or measure, but it s effects are noticeable. I believe that the amount of respect one gets can be broken down into three main factors.

First, the amount of time one spends at home. As in most cases, the more contact one has with another, the more comfortable they are with that interaction. The more comfort, the more liberty is taken, leading to inevitable conflict. The way that this plays out in our house is that those who are here often are included in all situations, good and bad, and form a tighter bond with each other. Those who are not around miss out, and are seen as sort of out of the loop. For example Luke and Brian spend a lot of time together, and therefore view each other s musical equipment as communal. Luke spends easily the most time at school, but is still here quite often. Brandon and Brian spend the most time here, while Jason spends less than the three. As I attend school full time and work 45-50 hours a week, I spend by far the least amount of time here. I can say with confidence that my possessions and my privacy are respected far more than that of those who spend more, because I have seen the progression. When I did not work as much, things were opposite, and I did not feel that I was being respected in that area. Now that I spend very little time here, I feel that I have power in sense that people do not feel the same liberty with my possessions as they do someone who they have more interactions with.

Second, the extent to which one has shared their belongings in the past. Luke has been by far the most guarding of his things. Jason, Brandon and Brian seemingly only have communal property, and I have been some where in between. Respectively, people have been considerably more respectful of Luke s and my things. Brandon, Brian and Jason s things, however, are constantly being broken or stolen, misused and overused, without permission. It is a point of frustration for them, and a point of empowerment for Luke and I because we can avoid the problems and conflicts that inevitably follow. This situation can be loosely correlated to the elitist theory that the ruling class remains in power because they are guarding of their society, and limit others access to their valued resources. The elite class is not impenetrable, but because of the structure of their social, educational, and political groups, it is hard for anyone to abuse their resources.

Third, the amount of money one has. This is related to another source of power already discussed, but is directly related to respect in this household as well. This has been well evidenced for me by my recent change in jobs. Before the switch, I was in the same boat as Jason, Brandon, and Brian: living paycheck to paycheck, barely surviving in between. But now that I have money to spare on more frivolous things, I have noticed a distinct shift in the amount of respect that I receive. Luke always has money, and has had the respect from the beginning. He has had power in this household because he loans money when others are in need, and has always paid bills on time, and so on. Now that I am in that position, I see that there is respect for those who have more money in this house, and with that respect comes power in the areas of decision making, among other things. This principle can be related to elitist and class theories because of their views on the unlikely event of class mobilization. In elitist and class models, the rich and powerful class regenerates itself by retaining control over money and other important resources. Instead of lower class uprising, a certain respect is had for the elite. This respect becomes an unspoken admittance of superiority of the upper class, the lower conceding the important decisions to be made by the elites.

Over all, it cannot be said that this study completely supports any of the major theories on the subject. As previously eluded to, there are certain tendencies to be similar to the elitist theory that seems to be supported in greater society, but overall, I must say that power is relatively well distributed. Some have power in certain areas, while others have power in others. This seems to support the consensus model, which would say that each of us are competing powers, none powerful enough to monopolize control of the house.

Overall, it is hard to apply these broad, socially concerned theories on such a small level. It is helpful, however, to attempt to apply these theories on the more specific level in order to learn more about personal interaction and everyday power struggles.

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