Social Power

a practically socially situated capacity to control others’ actions, where this capacity may be exercised (actively or passively) by particular social agents, or alternatively, it may operate purely structurally.

Wherever power is at work, we should be ready to ask who or what is controlling whom, and why.

Power can operate actively or passively. Consider a traffic warden:

  1. Active power is the ability of the traffic warden to actually impose a fine
  2. Passive power is the ability of the traffic warden to influence the behaviour of drivers due to the risk of a fine

This leads to a few characteristics of power

  1. Passive power tends to dwindle with the dwindling of its active operation
  2. Power is capacity; this capacity does not go away even if it is not being realized in action
    1. Counterclaim to Foucault’s “Power exists only when it is put into action”

Types of social power

  1. Agential Power: power exercised by a single agent on other agents
  2. Structural Power: no particular agent exercising power (e.g. algorithmic power)

Power only exists due to social relations and inherent trust in the other to uphold the expectations we place of their role.

Identity Power

Social stickiness of identities, people tend to do what is expected of their social roles and norms

e.g. ‘People like us aren’t political’; and so they do not vote. Conversely, part of what encourages many of us to vote is a social self-conception in the collective imagination such that ‘People like us are politically engaged’.