Introduction to Power and Authority

What you’ll learn to do: define and differentiate between power and authority

A graphic of a blue figure standing on a podium with an arm raised, and two gray figures on either side.

In this section, we will discuss the government and the political system in terms of their impact on individuals and larger social systems. In order to help us understand and discuss our political system, we must first define government.  Government is a political institution with formal methods of acquiring and exercising power and authority. This political institution encompasses all the means and processes by which a society maintains order. The two underlying elements of a government are power and authority—as sociologists, let’s examine them both separately, and then consider how they may be interrelated.

Power is an entity’s or individual’s ability to control or direct others, while authority is influence that is predicated on perceived legitimacy. Consequently, power is necessary for authority, but it is possible to have power without authority. In other words, power is necessary but not sufficient for authority. As you’ll learn in this section, Max Weber studied power and authority, differentiating between the two concepts and formulating a system for classifying types of authority.




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