Power Definitions and Examples in Sociology

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Definition: Power is a key sociological concept with several different meanings and considerable disagreement surrounding them. The most common definition comes from Max Weber, who defined it as the ability to control others, events, or resources; to make happen what one wants to happen in spite of obstacles, resistance, or opposition. Power is a thing that is held, coveted, seized, taken away, lost, or stolen, and it is used in what are essentially adversarial relationships involving conflict between those with power and those without.

In contrast, Karl Marx used the concept of power in relation to social classes and social systems rather than individuals. He argued that power rests in a social class’s position in the relations of production. Power does not lie in the relationship between individuals, but in domination and subordination of social classes based on the relations of production.

A third definition comes from Talcott Parsons who argued that power is not a matter of social coercion and domination, but instead flows from a social system’s potential to coordinate human activity and resources in order to accomplish goals.