Paper Example on Power Taxonomy

Published: 2021-07-07
927 words
4 pages
8 min to read
University of Richmond
Type of paper: 
Critical thinking
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The social psychologists Bertram Raven and John French came up with five bases of power in 1959. They include reward, expert, legitimate, referent and coercive. These helps people to understand why they are influenced by leaders and how they are prepared to accept their power. It also helps leaders to develop effective power bases so as to get the best from his/her people.


This power source involves using skills and knowledge in understanding situations, using solid judgment and suggesting solutions so as to gain peoples trust and respect and their ability to listen to you. Other in your location will look to you for leadership because of valuable ideas you possess. This source also helps one to improve leadership skills and to maintain expert power through expanding your reputation for rational thinking, confidence, and decisiveness.


This power source involves giving of rewards. The people in power will give out rewards through promotions, training opportunities, compliments, raises and desirable assignments that are why people will do what leaders want while expecting to be rewarded. However, rewards can have a less perceived value which can weaken your power and also in work areas individuals may not have powers to issue rewards for example managers cannot give out promotions because there are CEOs while supervisors cannot increase salaries of workers without consulting managers. This makes this style of power weaker.


This is another power source which is provided by organizational structure, social hierarchies, cultural norms and electoral mandates and is mostly used by presidents, prime ministers o monarch. The position the leaders held is what gives them legitimate power thus when they lose their position; their legitimate powers will disappear meaning this type of power is unstable and not predictable. It also limited regarding scope to aspects that people believe you have a right to control only.


This power source comes from liking and respecting each other as practiced by celebrities. They can influence peoples choices in many activities. Managers in the workplace often use referent power to influence the employees by making them feel good. However, this style of power can be abused since it only needs popularity to rise to power even if you lack integrity issues. The power will only be used for personal advantage while hurting the other. This style should be combined with expert power so that you will be successful because it does not help you to gain respect and stay long in power.


This source of power commonly uses threats and punishment and is always abused leading to dissatisfaction among people. Threats of being fired, demoted or denied basic aspects in workplaces are always used by bosses thats why there are many cases of turnovers. Coercive power should only be used when punishing mistakes done by people.

These sources of power in most cases are not mutually exclusive because one could utilize a lower or higher degree of all or any of them at the same time. They possess different levels of effectiveness and they produce different goals thus any style should be used where necessary.

Taxonomy Changes Over Time

New developments have occurred overtime from the original Raven and French bases of social power. Emerson introduced theory of power-dependence relationships in 1962 and 1964 which explained that dependencies of people on each other over resources are what is bringing power differentials. This theory covers most of French and Ravens forms of power. Moreover, Lovanglia, Willer, and Markovsky in 1997 differentiated the term power from the influence which had been treated as same. They said that the two terms frequently co-occur since power is structurally determined potential used to obtain payoffs which are favored and interests are opposed while influence is an aspect of belief and attitude which is socially induced without recourse to sanctions. This, therefore, showed that a person could have power without influence which was one thing in Raven and French theory.

Raven in 1992 also created more changes in their original sources of power theories. He sub-divided reward and coercion into two categories; impersonal and personal. The reward is impersonal because it refers to real and tangible rewards and punishments while coercion base is personal because it involves the threat of rejection or personal approval. He further subdivided legitimate power into four bases. First is a legitimate power of reciprocity which suggests that we should have an obligation to do positive actions to someone who has done the same to you. The second is the legitimate power of position which is held by the agent by his/her status and is related to the concepts of original legitimate power. The third point is a legitimate power of responsibility which means we need to assist those who depend on us. Lastly is the legitimate power of equity which stresses on the need to compensate a person who you have harmed.

The new developments, however, have continued to focus on the original work by French and Raven although they have criticized them regarding theoretical and definitional vagueness. The changes, however, has brought empirical improvement to the measurement of social power.


French, J. R., & Raven, B. (2004). The bases of social power. Studies in social power, 1959-150.

Nesler, M. S., Aguinis, H., Quigley, B. M., Lee, S. J., & Tedeschi, J. T. (2005). The Development and Validation of a Scale Measuring Global Social Power Based on French and Raven's Power Taxonomy1. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 29(4), 750-769.

Raven, B. H. (2008). The bases of power and the power/interaction model of interpersonal influence. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 8(1), 1-22.


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