Bases of Social Power

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Social powerProcesses of power are pervasive, complex, and often disguised in our society. The Bases of Social Power of French and Raven is a theory that identifies five (six) bases or sources of social (organizational) power:

  1. Reward power. This form is based on the perceived ability to give positive consequences or remove negative ones.

  2. Coercive power. This is the perceived ability to punish those who not conform with your ideas or demands.

  3. Legitimate power (organizational authority). This form is based on the perception that someone has the right to prescribe behavior due to election or appointment to a position of responsibility. Also called Normative Power. Compare: Organization Chart.

  4. Referent power. This is power by virtue of the follower wanting to emulate the person who possesses this form of power (wanting to be be like him).

  5. Expert power. This type is based on having distinctive knowledge, expertness, ability or skills.

  6. Similar to 5: Information power. This form is based on controlling the information needed by others in order to reach an important goal.

The Five Bases of Social Power theory starts from the assumption that power and influence involve relations between at least two agents. The theory argues that the reaction of the receiving agent is the more useful focus for explaining the phenomena of social influence and power.


French and Raven examined the effect of power derived from the various bases of attraction and resistance to the use of power. Attraction and resistance are the recipient's sentiment towards the agent that uses power. They conclude that the use of power from the various bases has different consequences.

For example, coercive power typically decreases attraction and causes high resistance. Whereas reward power increases attraction and creates minimal levels of resistance.


French and Raven also concluded that "the more legitimate the coercion [is perceived to be], the less it will produce resistance and decreased attention".


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