1 POWER: A NEGLECTED VARIABLE IN SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY 1

DORWIN CARTWRIGHT

Twentieth century social psychology can be traced back to the earliest philosophers, but its complexion is largely determined by developments in this century. Prior to World War I social psychology had failed by and large to meet those requirements of an abstract, positive science which Comte had laid down about the middle of the nineteenth century. Today, in sharp contrast, the spirit of positivism holds sway, and the only problems deemed worthy of attention are those susceptible to objective observation and, preferably, quantification. But this gain has not been made without cost, for scientific status has been achieved by neglecting any phenomena which do not lend themselves readily to the operations of science.

In his review of the history of social psychology, Allport(2) points out that writers in its metaphysical epoch mapped out many of the phenomena which a developed scientific social psychology must handle. Advances in our present era will largely consist, then, in devising ways for treating by scientific techniques (empirical and conceptual) the many phenomena identified by the early theorists.

Power is such a phenomenon. This topic received considerable attention in the metaphysical era of social psychology. The classic reference is Hobbes (14) who in 1651 analyzed the motivation for power and some of its social consequences. More recent discussions, still in the metaphysical era, are those of Nietzsche(27) and Adler(1). Many other philosophical and speculative treatments could, of course, be cited.

At the present time questions about power are more commonly raised by men of practical affairs than by social psychologists. How does one best organize a group so that the activities of its members are coordinated? Why do so many people react to leaders by displaying either dependence or defiance? Is it possible for groups to be effective without concentrating power in

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1
This chapter is based on the presidential address delivered at the 1953 annual meeting of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.

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