A Taxonomy of Power and Power-Compliance Gaining Strategies

Psychology / April 23, 2015 / No Comments /
A discussion of the classification system defined by researchers French and Raven in 1959.

The paper discusses French and Raven’s taxonomy of five power sources available for gaining compliance: Coercive power, reward-based power, legitimate power, expert power and referent power. The paper defines each kind of power, giving examples from laboratory studies, advertising, corporate theory and gender-based linguistic studies. The paper includes a discussion not only on the ways of obtaining power, but also on the forms of resistance to that power.
Perhaps the most obvious definitionally and the crudest method in Raven’s taxonomy would be that of coercive power. Simply put, coercive power is the capacity to dispense punishments to those who do not comply with requests or demands. Consider, for instance, one of the most famous experiments ever conducted dealing with the exercise of power. In the study conducted by Stanley Milgram, subjects were recruited from a broad spectrum of socioeconomic and educational levels to participate in a study of memory. The subjects were then put into pairs, a teacher and a learner. The learner had to administer punishment through the use of electroshocks whenever the subject answered incorrectly. Of course, the learner was really a plant, a psychology student provided by Milgram. But the individual administering the punishment did not know that. So far as he or she knew, he or she had the ability to administer coercive power. Much to the shock and horror of the public when Milgram made his findings known, the teachers did so to the point where the learners protested that the shocks were becoming painful. This transpired as the level of electricity rose to 120 volts, then to 180 volts, to 300 where the subject demanded release, then to 330, when the learner became silent. (The actor playing the role of the experimenter told the subjects they had to go on, that there was no permanent tissue damage being done to the learners, and that he took full responsibility.) Sixty-five percent of Milgram’s subjects conducted the experiment to the bitter end.

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