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 Power: Interpersonal, Organizational and Global Di  posted by  duggu   on 11/27/2007  Add Courseware to favorites Add To Favorites  
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Silbey, Susan S., 21A.245J Power: Interpersonal, Organizational and Global Dimensions, Fall 2005. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed 07 Jul, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

President Kennedy addresses the U.S. Congress.

In a May 25, 1961 address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, President John F. Kennedy establishes the goal "of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth" before the decade is out. (Image courtesy of NASA.)

Course Highlights

This course features lecture notes, sample writing assignments and the mid-term exam in the exams section.

Course Description

Using examples from anthropology and sociology alongside classical and contemporary social theory, this course explores the nature of dominant and subordinate relationships, types of legitimate authority, and practices of resistance. The course also examines how we are influenced in subtle ways by the people around us, who makes controlling decisions in the family, how people get ahead at work, and whether democracies, in fact, reflect the "will of the people."





"The fundamental concept in social science is power, in the same sense in which energy is the fundamental concept in physics."

Russell, Bertrand. Power: A New Social Analysis.

"Power relations are both intentional and nonsubjective. ... [T]hey are imbued, through and through with calculation: there is no power that is exercised without a series of aims and objectives. But this does not mean that it results from the choice or decision of an individual subject."

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. Vol 1.


Power is one of the most significant phenomena in society as well as personal life; even though we often like to act as if everyone is equally free to do just as he or she pleases, we do not all enjoy equal power to determine what happens. The study of power extends far beyond formal politics or the use of overt force into the operation of every institution and every life: how we are influenced by the people around us, who makes controlling decisions in the family, how people get ahead at work, whether democratic governments, in fact, reflect the 'will' of the people.

This course is divided into three parts. The first portion involves a preliminary specification and analysis of the concept of power. We will begin with an effort to differentiate power from influence, from conformity and from socialization, after which we will explore the various forms of social power, relying predominantly on descriptive empirical and historical studies of the ways that power has been enacted in social relationships.

The second portion of the course uses historically significant writers to develop a set of general questions about the sources and distribution of power in society. This part concludes by locating the sources and dimensions of institutionalized power in the modern world. By the end of this second section, we will revise our preliminary conceptualization of power to produce a more complex cultural and structural understanding of power.

The last section of the course returns to empirical studies and examines the organization and distribution of power in professions, organizations, communities, nations and the globe. We will conclude with an analysis of the possibilities of resistance challenging institutionalized power and creating situations of shared power.

Course Requirements and Expectations

  1. Reading, Film Viewing, Games, and Class Participation: The most basic requirement for this course is that you come to class prepared to participate. Most often, I will lecture, but there will be times when the learning in class will depend on your participation. Generally, you will find the lectures more informative and interesting, and your participation in class discussion more productive for you and your classmates, if you have read the materials before hand.
    Several films are essential to the course and class discussions. The films will be screened on Fridays for class discussion the following week. Thus, students need to be prepared to attend 2 mandatory film viewings on Fridays (Lec #4 and Lec #6) at 11:00 am.
    Games: Students are required to participate in a game that simulates power in organization and other settings. Date and time to be announced in class. (10% of grade)
  2. Short Paper (6-8 pages): An analysis of power in everyday interactions. Paper due on Lec #11. (30% of grade)
    All papers will be graded on the basis of mechanics (spelling and grammar), good argumentative writing skills (clarity, conciseness, evidence), and incorporation of the scholarly literature as grounds for interpretation and critique of the film. We will go over in class what counts as good argumentative writing; in addition, you should consult Cuba, Writing about Social Science for general instructions on writing social science papers, and Strunk and White, Elements of Style, for the mechanics of good writing.
  3. Mid-term Examination: To be scheduled between Lec #18 and Lec #22. (30% of grade)
  4. Final Paper: Final paper due on Lec #27. (30% of grade)
  5. Extra Credit Assignment


Reading, Film Viewing, Games, and Class Participation 10%
Short Paper 30%
Mid-term Examination 30%
Final Paper 30%



1 Introduction, Opening Discussion

- How is power defined? Is it possible to use a single definition of power to describe a variety of social situations?
- How do people get and use power?
- How much power is lodged within personality and how much is part of the structure of the situation?
- How does the use of power sometimes mystify the targets so that they do not recognize that power is being exerted?
- Can power be equalized, or must some people always have more?
- What is resistance? How might we identify resistance in situations of institutionalized power?
I. Defining the Concept of Power: A Preliminary Analysis
2-3 What is Power? Action and Intention  
4-6 What Power is Not: Influence and Conformity  
7-10 Force: The Limiting Case  
11-12 Leadership and Charisma: Personal and Inspirational Power First paper due on Lec #11
13-14 Authority (1): The Ability to Command  
II. The Sources, Structure and Institutionalization of Power
15-16 Some Classical Views  
17-18 Modern Debates Midterm exam
19-20 Authority (2): Power Redefined, Institutionalized, and Disciplined  
III. Institutionalized Power: Examples and Transformations
21-22 Bureaucratic Organizations and Entrepreneurial Corporations  
23-24 Modernity, Post-modern Colonialism, and The Global Community  
25-26 The Possibilities of Resistance  
27 Powersharing

Can Power be Distributed Equally?
Final paper due
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