24 January 2011

The Power of Need: Foundations of Social Structures

Power manifests both individually and socially and it can be productive or dysfunctional. Social and individual power structures are dysfunctional when they do not effectively meet individual needs or even exploit the individual. The source of power arises from the dependency that need creates. What one person cannot do, or cannot provide, nature or other people must provide. The more a person is able to provide for himself, the more powerful he is and the less dependent he is upon others. Nonetheless, the interdependent nature of human needs requires some level of human interaction.

Individual Power. The centers of individual power are charisma (includes talent), intelligence, strength, sex, skills, and tools. Status influences access to individual power centers. The individual has the power to form and select groups of association, which will affect power status and the ability to influence social structure. This power arises from the ability or the perceived ability to provide needs or perceived needs to others. The more fundamental the need he provides, the more powerful he or the organization he creates will be.

Thye, Willer, and Markovsky offered proofs for these relationships with Status Value Theory, which is a synthesis of Status Characteristics Theory and Network Exchange Theory, which is derived from the highly mathematical Game Theory. “The experiment showed that status broadly impacts the use of power and related phenomena in negotiated exchange…The implication is that power is driven more by the social influence of high status individuals than by [material utilitarian benefits offered]” (2006).

The individual must be understood as the powerful center of sociological structure. For, as Locke postulated, no government authority has legitimacy if the people do not consent to its authority. Leaders may be brutal and dictatorial, but they can only rule as long as people are willing to tolerate that sort of authority. As the history of nations shows, the people will attempt to overthrow oppressors and powerful individuals mobilize uprisings.

Social Power. The three centers of social power are family, government, religion, and business. In addition to creating a structure for the fulfillment of individual needs, social institutions facilitate or limit individual power for the benefit of competing individuals or groups. These power centers compete with one another to provide individual needs, or perceived needs to people and groups. This power becomes dysfunctional when it exploits one group to their harm for the benefit of another group or individual. Furthermore, an organization, which seeks to provide all human needs by monopolizing power centers into one ruling force, has immense potential to abuse power and become dysfunctional. Therefore, individuals and masses are wise to require that government not have sole control of religious, business, or educational centers of power to preserve individual power and liberty.

Family culture is the location of cultural development. Cultures, like children, are profoundly influenced by the experiences of their early development. Personalities and patterns of behavior become ingrained which can become very difficult obstacles to overcome in developing into a successful community or nation on the world stage.

Multiple studies conclude that maltreatment of children creates deleterious long-term effects on children, thus impacting society as they mature (e.g. Maschi et al.). I propose that individuals and families are the constituents of nations and governments. Therefore, study of the patterns and practices we see in families can be applied to social institutions and cultures for increased perspective on healthy and unhealthy child as well as cultural development. Child maltreatment is defined neglect as well as physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. Social maltreatment parallels these categories in the form of inadequate social structure, economic exploitation, civil rights abuse, and A-group domination of relatively helpless B-groups, respectively.

Children who are victims of maltreatment spend a lifetime trying to overcome the negative effects and rarely develop their full potential. Exceptions are the result of intervention from outside the family. Tina Maschi and her colleagues drew the correlation between child development and social work. “Social work prevention and intervention strategies should actively address post-trauma emotional, behavioral, and social residue that has been consistently shown to negatively affect youths and their families and communities” (2009). Likewise, other cultures or outside groups have a moral responsibility to intervene on behalf of the citizens of abusive governments or members of dysfunctional social structures.

Actor Functions. Each power center has actor functions by individuals, bureaucratic leaders, and masses. Every religion, government, business, and family has a founder or a very small group of organizing individuals. Therefore, the individual is the phase-one actor function. As an organization becomes established, policy and procedure becomes the ruling force as enacted by bureaucratic individuals as a phase-two actor function. The third phase of actor functions is massification. This is when individuals are no longer individuated, and the individual becomes expendable in a group organization. At this point individual needs and acknowledgement are minimized in the organization and individual actions become removed from personal and accountable thought. In this phase, only when the masses act as a unified group, will individual needs be acknowledged within the organization.

Power Keys. Power keys can be used to the harm or benefit of individuals and groups, cooperatively or competitively. Because all power forms can all be activated by economic resource allocation, money is a power key. Money itself is not a power, but how groups and individuals use money affects their power. Likewise, the control of information and ideas is a power key. The capacity to produce and distribute materials and products also affects individual and group power because it is the ability to meet human needs. The final power key is authority. General acceptance of structure (norms and laws) and leaders creates social legitimacy and gives the actors within social structures the power to function.

Influence and Force.
There are three forms of power: influence, force, and withholding. Influence is the ability to shape thinking, behavior, and social development through ideas, products, distribution, and physical contact (loving or violent). Force is the coercive application of influence—the application or threat of negative consequence for non-compliance with a powerful individual or group.

Vehicles of Influence.
The vehicles of influence are used to manipulate pleasure and love. They are physical contact, media, and education. People with high power status exert more influence because of their ability to persuade others by virtue of their position. By the same token, they can create status by exerting influence. Creating status or exerting influence is achieved through communication media, whether face to face and group communication, recorded audio, print, electronic media, and video. The more access a person has to the variety of media, the more extensive his influence will be. All forms of influential communication can be used to educate. Therefore, the power of media is the power to educate or distort; to inform or misinform. Non-verbal communication in the form of physical contact or activity-associated bonding increases the influence that communications and education have. From a handshake, to maternal bonding, to sexual intercourse the human need for human contact brings the power of influence to those who satisfy those needs.

The vehicles of influence can be summarized as the power to generate meaning. How needs are defined, interpreted, and met controls human ability to satisfy needs successfully or dysfunctionally. False meanings bring false satisfaction, which creates dysfunction. There is much to be said about the social significance of meaning that is beyond the scope of this paper. I will suffice with a summary by Michael Hughes:

Evidence is presented that people experience lowered affect in some challenging and stressful situations that simultaneously generate meanings that enhance the quality of their lives, and that experiences of high affect along with impoverished meanings produce low quality of life. This strongly suggests that meaning may be a more fundamental dimension of life quality than is affect. Meanings may also enhance the quality of life by motivating people's involvement in activities that promote social integration and the quality of social relationships (2006).

Vehicles of Force. The vehicles of force manipulate pain and fear. Military and police force, or the threat of use of force is a strong means of social control. It can be useful and effective in controlling the behavior of large groups. Their presence is one of the primary ways a government fills the need for individual protection. The possession of strength or weaponry by individuals, groups, and governments increases force capacity. However, force is the power most easily abused. When force is used to suppress a group of individuals, to their harm rather than protection, a powerful group or individual is performing dysfunctionally. Fear of force is the primary use of force, as the threat of inflicting pain or death tends to minimize the need to actually inflict it. Terror is an extreme form of fear that can be used by smaller groups to gain an advantage against the superior strength of dominant groups.

Because needs (both actual and relative/perceived) drive all human interaction, withholding from individuals and groups can be a means of exerting power as much as providing needs. As noted earlier, an individual’s ability to meet needs affects power status. Groups who prevent other groups from receiving or meeting needs are exerting dominating power.

The three schools of thought in contemporary sociology fail to acknowledge the full spectrum of human social interaction as a whole process, from the micro to the macro and from history to the future. Transitionalism seeks to understand the formation of social structures through complex interactions of individuals, families, and institutions as originating from human needs conflicts and resulting power sources, both functionally and dysfunctionally

The power of change originates with ideas in the form of ideologies, or in the form of production or products (invention) through any of the vehicles of power by any of the institutions of society. This is similar to W.F. Ogburn’s view of material and non-material culture (Schaefer 2008). All ideas and actions originate from powerful individuals. (They are powerful because of their ability to generate and implement ideas.
) The workings of society which sociology tries to understand are based on dynamic conflict between competing interests and conflicting ideologies among centers of power. There are two types of transition: revolution and evolution.

Revolution is marked by punctuated conflict between the dominant group and the sub-dominant group seeking a dramatic change in a concentrated time. When the sub-dominant group becomes dominant, the punctuated conflict that polarized the groups remains intact. The lack of inter-group cohesion creates a cycle of revolution

Evolution. Meanings change as different individuals and groups express and implement ideas. While the changes may be dramatic, the conflict is less punctuated by group-against-group interaction and a variety of subgroups adopt new meanings and applications to form new cultural norms. This is accelerated through multi-cultural amalgamation.

Transition my fail, in which case, a living culture will decay and expire. Examples of such are the Roman and Egyptian Empires. While we still have many elements of their culture in Western Civilization, they are historical in their influence and not vital (living) elements in a continuing culture. Nonetheless, cultural descendancy (genetic and cultural heritage) has a powerful impact on the formation of new societies.

Stages. There are four phases of transition: stasis, discontent, resistance and resolution, which takes one of three forms: schism, amalgamation, or extinction. Social stability is temporary. No matter how well or balanced needs are met, even in a perfect world, there will be people who would become discontent with perfection (because perfection never includes self-centered indulgence). Therefore, competing ideologies will emerge. The selfish individual will miss the connection with society and seek to create a group that believes in and supports his selfish pursuits. Because no individual wants to be a pariah, he will proselyte his resistance bringing a rebirth of deviance and conflict. Eventually the deviant culture will become so successful in its proselytizing efforts that it will become the dominant culture. If the ideas that culture promotes do not support the universal truth of balanced needs fulfillment, it will destroy itself, and the culture will become extinct.

While human needs in the four categories of spiritual, intellectual, physical, and emotional are universal, the power to meet and/or distort those needs and their meanings creates conflict within social structures which are formed to meet those needs. Organization consistently arises from individuals who utilize personal power to form social centers of power or institutions, which evolve bureaucratic and mass functions distinct from the individual(s) original intent. Those actor functions have the ability to perform functionally to meet needs or dysfunctionally exploit needs in imbalanced power transactions.

This paper has not elaborated the specific needs or the totality of their implications, but provides a rich field for future work that diverges from relativistic culture and narrow conflict models in sociological thought.