Defining Power in Social Psychology
The notion of power is differently understood across academic fields and even within them. Despite this large number of conceptualizations, a smaller number of patterns can be discerned. At present, there appear to be at least two ready-made options for social psychologists to adopt when thinking of power. The first approach is to treat power as if it were an object, by operationalizing it and treating it as an independent variable OF study (within the mechanistic, causal chains usually examined by experimental research).The second approach is to treat power as an analytical lens FOR the study of social phenomena (that is, by asking what insights the notion of power might provide researchers when examining social psychological processes, similarly to how the notion of economics can serve as a broad theoretical lens for examining social relations). While social psychology would seem to be constitutionally able to follow either path, it has generally tended to follow the former. In this article we explore some of the reasons for the primacy of this option, as well as some of the consequences of this tendency, including both its strengths and some of its important inherent limitations. It is argued that we should be aware of those strengths and limitations, and that such awareness will encourage greater flexibility on the part of researchers examining power – something that would greatly benefit the field of social psychology as a whole.
Lucas B. MazurFrancis Hiatt School of Psychology, Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA