Man, Work, and Society: A Reader in the Sociology of Occupations

By Sigmund Nosow; William H. Form | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XI
OCCUPATIONS AND SOCIAL POWER

Because occupations in urban industrial societies represent different degrees of control of property, and because the economic and political are so closely interwoven, occupations have an important role in the distribution of social power in the society. General theory suggests that some occupations play more of a coordinating role in society than do others. It has also been observed that the greater the division of labor in a society, the greater the need to coordinate and direct the efforts of the individual occupations.1 This coordinating and directing role may be considered the manifestation of social power, as the ability to move other groups in the direction of one's own goals. As institutional dominance changes within a society, as technology changes, as the organization of occupations changes, as the structure of ownership changes, different occupations assume directive and coordinating functions, reflecting shifts in the amount of power available to these groups.

Various theories have focused on particular occupations as exhibiting the greatest amount of power. In western capitalism the captains of industry and large-scale financiers have been singled out as having more power and providing the over-all direction of the society. This has been observed not only by Marxists but also by many others. Robert and Helen Lynd, in their study of Middletown in Transition, documented how a business family dominated the entire institutional life of a middle- sized city during the Great Depression.2 Floyd Hunter in Community Power Structure also showed how a number of big businessmen and financiers dominate the life of a modern metropolis.3 Excerpts of these studies are not provided because they are generally known and available.

Shortly after World War I, Thorstein Veblen was impressed with the important role engineers were playing in the economy. The experiences during and after World War I pointed out the importance of technical knowledge in running factories and other organizations. The people elected Herbert Hoover, an engineer, presumably above politics, as

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