Power and Domination

“Power” is the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance, regardless on the basis on which this probability rests.  (53)

This seems very vague, and would be hard to study except in very overt forms.  We can see resistance clearly when it is physical, or when the someone clearly expresses displeasure at a certain action in an attempt to stop it.  But we need to be much more precise if we are looking at social relationships.  Weber recognizes that almost anything we can sociologically study can be a source of power under this definition.

“Domination” is the probability that a command with a given specific content will be obeyed by a given group of persons.  “Discipline” is the probability that by virtue of habituation a command will receive prompt and automatic obedience in stereotyped forms, on the part of a given group of persons.

These definitions seem a bit better.  What we would look for in domination are commands, if they are obeyed, and how habituated people are to following commands in this social relationship.

Domination here only means a person successfully issuing orders to others.  Weber points out that this doesn’t necessitate the existence of an administrative staff or organization (for example, the traditional role of head of household is a position of domination without either of these), yet Weber believes it is uncommon for domination not to be at least related to one of these.  If members of an organization are subject to domination by virtue of the established order, they are part of a “ruling organization.”

In this section, Weber doesn’t relate these concepts to anything he has discussed previously beyond what I’ve mentioned above.  In that case, I’m left with thinking that we must interpret “domination” broadly here to mean simply the issuance of orders and their compliance.  This would then seem be independent of the types of legitimacy of a social relationship; voluntary as well as compulsory organizations rest on domination:

If it possesses an administrative staff, an organization is always to some degree based on domination.  But the concept is relative.  In general, an effectively ruling organization is also an administrative one.  The character of the organization is determined by a variety of factors: the mode in which the administration is carried out, the character of the personnel, the objects over which it exercises control, and the extent of effective jurisdiction.  The first two factors in particular are dependent in the highest degree on the way in which domination is legitimized.  (54)

Weber is going to go into detail about the different ways in which domination is legitimized later in the book.  For now, I think this seems like quite an expansion of the definition of domination, at least beyond how I would commonly use the word.  Are the people in any position of responsibility in a position of domination?  It seems like if they can give orders within their given certain context of legitimacy and have those orders followed, that meets Weber’s definition.

I think I’m having trouble accepting this definition because it doesn’t seem that the same word should apply to the relationship between ranks in a military and positions of responsibility at an intentional community.  Weber definitely allows for this to be a relative term, but the difference between those two situations seems qualitatively different to me.  There are still clearly power relations involved in either situation, unequal levels of power depending on the context, and different levels of habituation to that relationship.  However, the source of this legitimacy to give orders and the subjective perception of why those orders should be followed seem extremely different: one is a hierarchical organization of command whose goal is to use physical force to control a territory, and the other is a largely egalitarian system where certain people have responsibility for maintaining certain areas of the community, whose goal is to provide for the material needs of its members.  Maybe it’s not the concept but the word choice itself that’s more of the problem for me.  I can’t really think of anything better to use though, if what we are trying to define is simply the ability to issue orders and have them followed.


~ by Ethan Tupelo on 02015.01.30.

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