11
A FIELD THEORETICAL CONCEPTION OF POWER 1

DORWIN CARTWMGHT

The study of power has long been the prerogative of political scientists and political philosophers. Mere mention of the word makes one think of Machiavelli, Hobbes, Nietzsche, Russell, and a host of others concerned with the philosophy and practice of government. Topics discussed under the heading of power deal typically with the various forms of government, war and diplomacy, operation of the military in government, relations between the economic system and government, such political processes as influencing the vote, exerting pressure, or controlling the disaffected, class and caste, and revolution. Power has traditionally been viewed as an attribute of large social entities or of relations among them.

With this historical perspective it may seem strange to categorize the phenomena studied in this volume under the label of power. Shouldn't essentially different concepts be used to describe matters as diverse as the dealings between General Motors and the United States Government and the interactions between husband and wife? Isn't it merely a careless use of terms to speak of the power structure of both a nation and a summer camp? The basic thesis of this book holds that no categorical distinction between "large" and "small" social entities can be maintained; such concepts as influence, power, and authority (or their equivalents) must be employed in any adequate treatment of social interaction wherever it may take place. We have found that we simply cannot understand the relations among the mental health professions, the behavior of children in summer camps, the making of decisions within the family, or the effectiveness of leadership in work groups without knowing about the power situation.

Although there are undeniably important differences between large, enduring social institutions and more temporary relationships within smaller

____________________
1
The material presented in this chapter is in a real sense the product of a group. It has evolved out of extended and intensive interaction with my colleagues at the Research Center for Group Dynamics, and the great influence of Kurt Lewin will be evident throughout. By assuming sole authorship, I take responsibility for its present formulation, but I must express my debt to all those who have helped shape it.

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