Types of Authority
Authority is generally seen as a special form of power, which refers to the ability to influence outcomes through force, coercion, or persuasion, and through legitimate or nonlegitimate means. Power is typically understood as a process or force that helps to integrate society or maintain social order, especially when there are disagreements or social cleavages that might make it difficult for people to get along. Much of the early sociological research on power found that society was not held together by agreement between its members, based on shared social norms (such as argued by functionalists). Rather, conflict theories saw society as divided in different ways and held together by different forms of power and authority (Waters, 1994). Leading the analysis of authority is Max Weber, whose work is the starting point for most discussions of authority in liberal societies.
Keywords Charisma; Charismatic Authority; Coercion; Governmentality; Power; Rational-Legal Authority; Stratification; Traditional Authority
Types of Authority
Before we can understand what authority is, we need to understand its source: or, if you will, the power of power. Authority is generally seen as a special form of power, which refers to the ability to influence outcomes through force, coercion, or persuasion, and through legitimate or nonlegitimate means. Power is typically understood as a process or force that helps to integrate society or maintain social order, especially when there are disagreements or social cleavages that might make it difficult for people to get along. Much of the early sociological research on power found that society was not held together by agreement between its members, based on shared social norms (as argued by functionalists). Rather, conflict theories saw society as divided in different ways and held together by different forms of power and authority (Waters, 1994). Leading the analysis of authority is Max Weber, whose work is the starting point for most discussions of authority in liberal societies. His interest in power was directed toward understanding how to govern, who should govern whom, and the legitimacy for techniques of government.
Class, Status, Party
In 1922, Max Weber, the German sociologist, wrote an essay called "The Distribution of Power with the Political Community: Class, Status, Party." He viewed power as the basis of stratification — that is, the existence of systematic inequalities between groups of people that develop through the unintended consequences of social processes and relationships. Class, party, and status reflect economic, social, and political dimensions of stratification (or different dimensions of power), where class reflects the outcomes of economic power, status refers to social power, and party refers to political power (Marshall et al. 1994).
For Weber, power is a social relationship that determines and structures how resources are distributed throughout society and is not, in contrast to materialist and Marxist views about power, solely associated with economic resources. His interest in power, nonetheless, was directed toward understanding how to govern, who should govern whom, and the legitimacy for techniques of government. For Weber, it is not the case that access to economic resources determines who is likely to be in political control or who is in a position to exercise authority, which occurs whenever someone allows someone else to make decisions for them or when a person voluntarily subordinates himself or herself to the will of another (Coleman, 1980). It was this insight that led Weber to study the different circumstances in which social groups were able to exercise power and to elaborate on different types of authority as the basis of power.
While clearly power and domination can be derived from the control of resources, Weber was very interested in legitimate domination, in which those who are ruled or are under command accept the rule of rulers (Waters, 1994). This acceptance creates a degree of stability. He suggested that authority could be seen as "imperative coordination (control)" in which "the probability that specific commands (or all commands) from a given source will be obeyed by a given group of persons" and that requires "a certain minimum of voluntary submission" (quoted in Coleman, 1980, p. 146). In other words, authority is expressed as a social relation between two parties. While one party may hold authority, the other party must concede authority to them or vest authority in them in a way that acknowledges the legitimacy of that authority. In order to further elaborate what he means, Weber set out three main ways, or typologies, by which domination is exercised.
Different Forms of Authority
Traditional authority exists in status-stratified societies, where both leaders, such as a priest or a family head, and followers of a particular group accept and support certain well-established rights, which often have a religious, sacred, or spiritual basis and are associated with slowly changing cultures, or tribal, family, or clan type structures (Ritzer, 1999). Leaders in such societies often inherit a particular status at birth (Waters, 1994). In many cases, artifacts symbolize traditional authority sustained by "a belief in the sanctity of everyday routines." (Gerth & Mills, 1991, p. 297). Broadly shared customs or beliefs provide the basis for traditional authority, which is in part sustained by the status honor bestowed on those who are in positions of dominance.
Traditional forms of authority are associated with one of four organizational structures: feudalism, patriarchalism, patrimonialism, and sultanism. These have existed in many societies across time and place and have limited the development of capitalism in non-Western societies. Patrimony means that something is derived from the father or from ancestors. Patriarchalism is the most significant type of traditional authority; it is based on the authority of the father or the senior of the house and is the basis for governing a family, household, clan, or a whole society. As long as others in the group accept the method of selecting the patriarch (e.g., this method could be patrilineal, or the first born son), the patriarch's authority has legitimacy and he can govern without restraint (Sydie, 1987). However, in modern, Western societies, women in particular have questioned the legitimacy of this form of authority, which feminists argue contributes to gender inequality. Rising divorce rates, the increase in single-parent households mainly headed by women, and rising birth rates to unmarried women have all been seen as evidence that the legitimacy of patriarchal patterns of authority is diminishing.
Weber was especially interested in patrimonialism, or patrimonial bureaucracy, a more modern form of patriarchalism, which is based on the personal use of an administration or military force and in which power is exercised via others, who carry out orders in return for favors and material rewards. While modern patriarchs hold power and can often exercise this without limits, they may also need to rely on others to carry out orders.
In contrast to traditional authority, charismatic authority is based on the personal qualities of an individual (rather than established rituals or lineages), such as a gift for rhetoric or a magnetic way of interacting with people and, importantly, the extent to which others consider them to be extraordinary and exceptional. People may have qualities that could be described as charismatic, but charismatic authority emerges because a particular group defines an individual as charismatic. Ritzer notes that if followers "define a leader as charismatic, then he or she is likely to be a charismatic leader irrespective of whether he or she actually possesses any outstanding traits" (1999, p. 134).
Charismatic authority is a driving and creative force that underpins traditional authority and established rules and is sustained by followers' acceptance of a leader's claims (Giddens, 1990). For instance, cult leaders such as David Koresh or Jim Jones can be described as leaders...
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