Types of Power and Tackling Social Problems

Types of Power and Tackling Social Problems

Types of power

Power is simply the ability to make someone do something they don’t want to do. In other words, it is the ability to control someone else’s behaviour.

Power can be exercised either through the use of coercion (or force) or through the exercise of authority. Coercion may take the use of violence, the threat of violence or even blackmail. Someone who has been coerced has no choice but to do what they have been told.

The exercise of authority is a different matter altogether. Society is constructed in a way that requires us to submit to authority, held by different people in different situations. We consent to that authority because we know that society will operate in a more organised way if we do.

Sociologists divide authority into three types:

Traditional authorityIn which people are obeyed because it is the custom to do so. Historically the father has been an authority figure within the family.

Legal rational authoritygiven to someone because of the role they hold in an organisation or society. They may have special knowledge or skills or they have been given their authority by the state.

Charismatic authorityin which the force of someone’s personality gives them the special ability to control the way other people behave.


Tackling social problems

Social problems include discrimination against people on the grounds of race, sexuality, gender or age as well the issue of unemployment. Discrimination contributes to the unequal distribution of wealth and power in the UK and unemployment leads to problems like poverty, ill-health, poor performance at school and an increase in antisocial or criminal behaviour.

Each new government introduces new social policies in an attempt to tackle these issues. They include:

The introduction of equality and anti-discrimination legislation, which makes it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of sexuality, age, religion, belief, disability or race.
The provision of means-tested benefits to support those who are struggling financially.
The provision of Child Benefit to any UK citizen with children.
The introduction of the New Deal programme which helps the unemployed train for and find employment.
The introduction of tax credits as a way of encouraging those who are on benefits to go back to work.
The introduction of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 which sets a minimum hourly rate for those in employment.