Definition, Nature, Dimensions, Types, and Consequences of Power

In the previous discussion on the different views on politics, you have learned that politics also involves power and the distribution of resources. It is thus seen as the exercise of authority in the state. Personal relationships are also characterized by power, whether you are conscious of this or not. You can notice how power is practiced in everyday life, even in the most ordinary situations. In this module, you will be introduced to the nature and types of power, and analyze its relevance and consequences in shaping the structure of different organizations and situations.

Definition of Power

In its broadest sense, power is one’s ability to achieve the desired outcome. However, in political terms, power is the ability to influence another—the way one thinks or behaves—in a manner not of his or her own choosing (Lasswell 1936). It thus involves one’s capacity to get things done, and to make someone do something
he or she would not otherwise do.

Political power involves three interrelated concepts: legitimacy, authority, and sovereignty. According to Roskin et al. (2012), legitimacy refers to the people’s perception that their government rules rightfully, and thus must be obeyed. Sovereignty, on the other hand, speaks of the ability of a national government to be the sole leader, which has the last word of law in that society. Lastly, authority is seen as the political leader’s ability to command respect and exercise power.

Power comes in different faces or dimensions. It can be considered as decision-making, agenda-setting, or thought control.

Dimensions of Power (Heywood 2013)

Power as decision-making

Power is perceived as the influence on the content of decisions. Who decides, what to be made, and how to execute such decisions all involve power.

Power as agenda-setting

Power involves the ability to set or control political agenda, highlighting one at the exclusion of other issues.

Power as thought control

Power is seen as an ideological indoctrination or a psychological control where one has the ability to change or shape how another thinks or behaves.

Power and Authority

While power is defined as the ability to command obedience and is rested on coercion, most political systems have developed mechanisms by which people obey orders. Power is considered as authority when it is recognized as legitimate. Max Weber (1922) distinguished three types of authority: traditional, rational-legal, and charismatic.

Power and authority are usually used interchangeably. In political science, authority is legitimate power. When the exercise of power by a leader is recognized and is accepted by those he or she governs, such is considered as legitimate power.

Types of Authority (Weber 1922)

    • Traditional – Authority is based on acceptance of and high regard of traditions. Monarchies are examples of this type.
    • Rational-legal – Authority is based on impersonal rules and regulations. People obey through a legitimate command from the leader.
    • Charismatic – Obedience is based on personal characteristics of a leader, whose qualities are considered to be exceptional.

The Exercise of Power and Its Consequences

Power defines social and political relationships. Who gets what, when, and how much are usually determined by power. From political systems characterized by democratic institutions or dictatorships, down to interpersonal relationships between and among individuals, the struggle for power is ever-present.

In the system of governance, power relations determine how resources are distributed. For instance, the relationship between the leader and the governed is shaped by inequality in power. Such is likewise evident in the global order. In world politics or international relations, according to realists, power relations decide the type of relationship between states. Realists maintain that economic, political, and military powers usually dictate the influence of one country over the affairs of another—if not the global order. However, liberals argue that the adverse effects of inequality of power are mitigated by a rules-based world order. Either way, there is a common recognition of the existence of power even at an international scale.