Gender, Power, and Communication in Human Relationships

By Pamela J. Kalbfleisch; Michael J. Cody | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
Body Politics Revisited: What Do We Know Today?

Nancy M. Henley University of California, Los Angeles

In 1977 my book Body Politics ( Henley, 1977) reviewed the literature on "power, sex, and nonverbal communication" and put forward from this review a set of theses, which I summarize below for the sake of those who are not familiar with them (and as a reminder for those who are). The theses are here categorized into three broad topic areas (all appear in Henley, 1977, pp. 179-200; the original numbers given them in the book are given below to aid identification).

The first topic area covers nonverbal behavior/communication (NVB/NVC) and the previously neglected domain of power within NVC studies. Like many others, I stated that nonverbal behavior is a major medium of communication in everyday life. But unlike others, I further stated that power/status/dominance is a major topic of nonverbal communication; that nonverbal behavior is a major avenue for social control and interpersonal dominance; that nonverbal power gestures provide the micropolitical structure, the thousands of daily acts through which nonverbal influence takes place, which underlies and supports the macropolitical structure; and that because of general cultural ignorance of nonverbal communication, its interpretation is highly susceptible to social influences (e.g., explanations utilizing sex stereotypes) that further maintain the status quo (theses 1, 2, 3, and 4).

Later theses were about the definition and exercise of(social) power: Borrowing from typical social science formulations, I defined power as the capability of influencing or compelling others, based on the control of desired resources (power, status, and dominance are different, though related and often confounded, con-

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