How Do Elites Define Influence? Personality and Respect as Sources of Social Power

A new article on symbolic interactionism and power is out in the November 2008 issue of Sociological Focus:


How well do theories of elites’ sources of social power match the reality as perceived by the elites themselves? Using data from interviews with 312 elites from a large midwestern American city, and employing an inductive coding method situated in grounded theory we use the constructivist approach in listening to elites’ definitions of their sources of social power. Integrating Weber’s notion of charisma and the interactionist literature on power, we hypothesize that interpersonal attributes can be crucial in micro-level power negotiations. Our analyses reveal that along with mentioning economic and political resources, institutional and organizational position, and connectedness in influence networks—themes common in elite theory—elites also identify the interpersonal attributes of personality and respect as sources of social power in their own right. Projection of positive personal attributes assists in the exercise of power; exposing traits with negative connotations can be a detriment. Elites display personal attributes while employing impression management, thus developing a social identity used to manipulate interpersonal relations. We conclude by offering a series of sensitizing principles to guide an understanding of how interpersonal sources of social power are used in elite power negotiations.

Yamokoski, Alexis and Joshua Kjerulf Dubrow.  2008.  “How Do Elites Define Influence?  Personality and Respect as Sources of Social Power.” Sociological Focus 41(4): 319-336.

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