17.1 Power and Authority

Sociologists examine government and politics in terms of their impact on individuals and larger social systems. Power is an entity or individual s ability to control or direct others, while authority is influence that is predicated on perceived legitimacy. Max Weber studied power and authority, differentiating between the two concepts and formulating a system for classifying types of authority.

17.2 Forms of Government

Nations are governed by different political systems, including monarchies, oligarchies, dictatorships, and democracies. Generally speaking, citizens of nations wherein power is concentrated in one leader or a small group are more likely to suffer violations of civil liberties and experience economic inequality. Many nations that are today organized around democratic ideals started out as monarchies or dictatorships but have evolved into more egalitarian systems. Democratic ideals, although hard to implement and achieve, promote basic human rights and justice for all citizens.

17.3 Politics in the United States

The success and validity of U.S. democracy hinges on free, fair elections that are characterized by the support and participation of diverse citizens. In spite of their importance, elections have low participation. In the past, the voice of minority groups was nearly imperceptible in elections, but recent trends have shown increased voter turnout across many minority races and ethnicities. In the past, the creation and sustenance of a fair voting process has necessitated government intervention, particularly on the legislative level. The Reynolds v. Sims case, with its landmark  one person, one vote ruling, is an excellent example of such action.

17.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Government and Power

Sociologists use frameworks to gain perspective on data and observations related to the study of power and government. Functionalism suggests that societal power and structure is predicated on cooperation, interdependence, and shared goals or values. Conflict theory, rooted in Marxism, asserts that societal structures are the result of social groups competing for wealth and influence. Symbolic interactionism examines a smaller realm of sociological interest: the individuals perception of symbols of power and their subsequent reaction to the face-to-face interactions of the political realm.

Section 17.1  Power and Authority

  • power: the ability to exercise one s will over others
  • authority: power that people accept because it comes from a source that is perceived as legitimate
  • traditional authority: power legitimized on the basis of long-standing customs
  • patrimonialism: a type of authority wherein military and administrative factions enforce the power of the master
  • charismatic authority: power legitimized on the basis of a leader s exceptional personal qualities
  • rational-legal authority: power that is legitimized by rules, regulations, and laws

Section 17.2  Forms of Government

  • anarchy: the absence of any organized government
  • monarchy: a form of government in which a single person (a monarch) rules until that individual dies or abdicates the throne
  • absolute monarchies: governments wherein a monarch has absolute or unmitigated power
  • constitutional monarchies: national governments that recognize monarchs but require these figures to abide by the laws of a greater constitution
  • oligarchy: a form of government in which power is held by a small, elite group
  • dictatorship: a form of government in which a single person (or a very small group) wields complete and absolute authority over a government or populace after the dictator rises to power, usually through economic or military might
  • totalitarian dictatorship: an extremely oppressive form of dictatorship in which most aspects of citizens lives are controlled by the leader
  • democracy: a form of government that provides all citizens with an equal voice or vote in determining state policy
  • representative democracy: a government wherein citizens elect officials to represent their interests

Section 17.3  Politics in the United States

  • politics: a means of studying a nation s or group s underlying social norms as values as evidenced through its political structure and practices
  • one person, one vote: a concept holding that each person s vote should be counted equally

Section 17.4  Theoretical Perspectives on Government and Power

  • power elite: a small group of powerful people who control much of a society

Section 17.1 Power and Authority

What Is Power?
Types of Authority
 Traditional Authority
 Charismatic Authority
 Rational-Legal Authority

Section 17.2 Forms of Government


Section 17.3 Politics in the United States

Voter Participation
 Race, Gender, and Class Issues
The Judicial System

Section 17.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Government and Power

Conflict Theory
 Conflict Theory in Action
Symbolic Interactionism

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