Exchange and Power in Social Life

Blau, Peter M. 1964. Exchange and Power in Social Life. New York; London; Sydney: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Radical political opposition, for example, crannot be explained without taking into account the expressive significance it has for supporters, and failure to do so is a sorious shortcoming of formalistically rational models of politics. Such political opposition that express the resentment of the oppressed can, however, be derived from a conception of exchange without resort to the assumption that the push of irrational impulses or psychopathic personality traits of drive individuals to become radicals. Similarly, in intimate relations of intrinsic significance, individuals often do favors for one another not in the expectation of receiving explicit repayments but to express their commitment to the interpersonal relation and sustain it bp encouraging an increasing commitment on the part of the other. There is still an element of exchange in doing favors to strengthen another's commitment that one desires, though only in the broadest sense of the term. (Blau 1964: 6)
"Intrinsically significant" relations sound neatly technical.
Opposition to existing powers in conceived in chapter nine as grounded in the unfair treatment experienced by an oppressed collectivity with extensive social communication among themselves and in their desire to retaliate for the injustice and exploitation they have suffered. Radical opposition to an oppressive ruling group could not arise were it not for the expressive significance this manifestation of their collective vengeance has for the exploited, because a ruling group has the power to make opposition to it disadvantageous, which would preclude opposition were subjects to engage in it only on strictly rational grounds. Oppression and deprivation often produce a social surplus, since they tend to make some men willing to sacrifice material welfare for the sake of opposition ideals and hence free human energies to join in opposition to the oppressors. A dilemma a radical opposition partiy is likely to face is that widening the appeal of its ideology requires compromises that may well weaken the commitment of its most devoted supporters. (Blau 1964: 9-10)
Yup, there are many disadvantages to being in radical opposition to oppression. That is to say that it is difficult to go against the grain or to swim upstream.
When the consciousness of individuals, instead of remaining isolated, becomes grouped and combined, something in the world has been altered. (Emile Durkheim, Suicide)
True, but this contention is also driven to the extreme in cases when grouping and combination of individuals is brought on by an instruction or command. E.g. all the unproductive group exercises a student is forced to join.
Physical pleasures that can be experienced in solitude pale in significance bp comparison. Enjoyable as a good dinner is, it is the social occasion that gives it its luster. Indeed, there is something pathetic about a person who derives his major gratification from food or drink as such, since it reveals either excessive need or excessive greed; the pauper illustrates the former, the glutton, the latter. To be sure, there are profound solitary enjoyments - reading a good book, creating a piece of art, producing a scholarly mork. Yet these, too, derive much of their significance from being later communicated to and shared with others. The lack of such anticipation makes the solitary activity again somewhat pathetic: the recluse who has nobody to talk to about what he reads; the artist or scholar whose works are completely ignored, not only by his contemporaries but also by posterity. (Blau 1964: 14-15)
I think there is intrinsic worth in schoralship as well: the thirst for knowledge, for example. Also, the internet and academic blogging make the matter of "communicating and sharing with others" a murky affair.
The social approval of those whose opinions we value is of great significance to us, but its significance depends on its being genuine. We cannot force others to give us their approval, regardless of how much power we have over them, because coercing them to express their admiration or praise would make these expressions worthless. "Action can be coerced, but a coerced show of feeling is only a show." (Blau 1964: 17)
Quite important sentiment.
Collective disapproval of power engenders opposition. People who share the experience of being exploited by the unfair demands of those in position of power, and by the insufficient rewards they receive for their contributions, are likely to communicate their feelings of anger, frustration, and aggression to each other. There tends to arise a wish to retaliate by striking down the existing powers. (Blau 1964: 23)
Today this is a bit different. Not only are these feelings communicated to each other, but to the whole human population via social media. And then it happens that the whole world wishes to strike down the oppressors. E.g. the recent case of peaceful demonstrations in Turkey against building a mall in place of the last existing park in central Istanbul. The injustice is readily recognizable to everyone and this arises collective empathy. Surely there have always been "dissident letters" and manifests by scholars etc. but these travelled by snail mail while the new age brings live video feed across the glove in an instant.
Institutionalization refers to the emergence of social mechanisms through which social values and norms, organizing principles, and knowledge and skills are transmitted from generation to generation. A society's institutions constitute the social matrix in which individuals grow up and are socialized, with the result that some aspects of institutions are reflected in their own personalities, and others appear to them as the inevitable external conditions of human existence. Traditional institutions stabilize social life but also introduce rigidities that make adjustment to changing conditions difficult. Opposition movements may arise to promote such adjustment, yet these movements themselves tend to become institutionalized and rigid in the course of time, creating needs for fresh oppositions. (Blau 1964: 25)
In the first instance similar to Hall's claim that bureaucracies tend to grow out of proportion and forget their original aim. In the second instance similar to Matthiesen's claim that "the system" has a way of neutralizing opposition (e.g. Rahvakogu).
Social reactions to the exercise of power reflect once more the principle of reciprocity and imbalance, although in a new form. Power over others makes it impossible to direct and organize their activities. Sufficient resources to command power over large numbers enable a person or group to establish a large organization. The members recruited to the organization receive benefits, such as financial remuneration, in exchange for complying with the directives of superiors and making various contributions to the organization. The leadership exercises power within the organization, nad it derives powel from the organization for use in relation with other organizations or groups. The clearest illustration of this double power of organizational leadership is the army commander's power over his own soldiers and ,through the force of their arms, over the enemy. Another example is the power business management exercises over its own employees and, through the strength of the concern, in themarket. The greater the external power of an organization, the greater are its chances of accumulating resources that put rewards at the disposal of the leadership for possible distribbution among its members. (Blau 1964: 29)
The power structure of organization, based on exchange relations.
If the demands of the men who exercise power are experienced by those subject to it as exploitative and oppressive, and particularly if these subordinates have been unsuccessful in obtaining redress for their grievances, their frustrations tend to promote disapproval of existing powers and antagonism torward them. As the oppressed communicate their anger and aggression to each other, provided there are opportunities for doing so, their mutual support and approval socially justify and reinforce the negative orientation toward the oppressors, and their collective hostility may inspire them to organize an opposition. The exploitative use of coercive power that arouses active opposition is more prevalent in the relations between organizations and groups than within organizations. Two reasons for this are that the advantages of legitimating approval restrain organizational superiors and that the effectiveness of legitimate authority, once established, obviates the need for coercive measures. But the exploitative use of power also occurs within organizations, as unions organize in opposition to exploitative employers show. A negative imbalance for the subjects of power stimulates opposition. The opposition negatively reciprocates, or retaliates, for excessive demands in an attempt to even the score, but it simultaneously creates conflict, disequilibrium, and imbalance in the social structure. (Blau 1964: 30)
The need for disengagement or distance from oppressive organizations.
To make a good impression, a person must infer which of his qualities would do so in a given group and adapt his conduct accordingly. Self-conscious concern with impressing others, however, can easily become self-defeating. If an individual is too self-conscious, his awkwardness will leave a poor impression, and if others suspect his of deliberately putting up a front, he also will have made an unfavorable impression. Creating a good first impression is a subtle form of bragging, but its success depends on its being so natural that it does not appear to be bragging at all. (Blau 1964: 39)
This stance is invaluable for an analysis of self-presentations.
Men are anxious to receive social approval for their decisions and actions, for their opinions and suggestions. The approving agreement of others helps to confirm their judgments, to justify their conduct, and to validate their beliefs. Factual decisions, which are either true or false in terms of an outside criterion, often engenders doubts and anxieties regarding their correctness, which are dispelled if associates whose judgment is respected concur in the decision. The values of men that govern their opinions and behavior cannot be considered true or false on the basis of any objective criterion, but this makes it even more important to receive the confirming approval of others. For it is the stamp of approval social agreement bestows on our values that validates them. Social consensus defines beliefs as right or wrong. Although it is possible for men to maintain convictions in the face of contrary public opinion, it is most difficult to do so; and the more at odds a man's beliefs are with prevailing values, the more important it is for him to receive some social support to sustain them. (Blau 1964: 62)
Orthodoxy is easier.
Superior status, whether it rests on the respect of a person commands or on his official position of power, makes his approval important for others. The high value of his approval permits him to use it sparingly despite group pressures for greater leniency, although there are, of course, individual differences in the tendency to yield to these pressures. The individual who neither occupies a superior official position nor is highly respected is under constraints to use his less valuable approbation more freely. His approval is not in great demand, particularly not by those whose competence enables them to receive praise from more respected persons. Hence, for his approval to have any impact at all, he must be willing to furnish it for decisions of only mediocre quality. (Blau 1964: 64)
If you're an average bloke, concern yourself with matters of average importance.
An individual's endeavors to gain social acceptance in a group are furthered most by the approval of highly respected group members, since their approving opinions of him influence the opinions of others and thus have a multiplier effect. Highly respected persons, however, tend to reserve their approval for outstanding qualifications and not to express it for mere conformity. To win their approbation, consequently, an individual must show that he has some superior abilities. The fact that even social acceptance is experienced by making an outstanding impression on others reinforce the tendency of new group members to demonstrate their impressive qualities, although acceptance as a peer does not require outstanding abilities and can be won, if more slowly, by establishing common links with other members, expressing opinions they share, and conforming to the prevailing norms among them. (Blau 1964: 67)
I'd rather aquire superior abilities than settle for the acceptance of peers.
Expressions of intrinsic attraction to an individual, just as expressions of approval of him, are expected to be spontateous reactions to his qualities; they lose their significance for him if it becomes apparent that they are calculated to have a certain effect on him, though it be only to give him pleasure. A man who seeks affection by internalized normative standards of judgment, and intrinsic attraction, by an internal emotional reaction. The stimulation of either is condemned. Approval of an individual's specific qualities that becomes diffuse approval of his composite qualities as a person is the source of intrinsic attraction to him. (Blau 1964: 69)
This reminds me of difference between a compliment and a praise: a compliment is calculated praise while geniune praise is spontaneous.
Finally, the gratification a woman experiences as the result of being loved by a man are greatly enhanced if she loves him too, and this may unconsciously incline her to return his love. The love of a man animates a woman and makes her a more fascinating and attractive person. Going out with a man who is in love with her enhances her self-image as a captivating woman and thus probably offects her behavior to make her actually more charming and appealing. For a man's loving admiration to have pronounced effects on her self-image and conduct, however, his estimation of her must be of great significance for her. A woman's love for a man who loves her, therefore, helps to make her a more charming and self-confident person, because it magnifies, as it were, the mirror that reflects and partly shapes her personality as a lover. Although a woman cannot will herself to love a man who loves her, the advantages she gains from reciprocating his love may unconsciously motivate her to do so. (Blau 1964: 83)
I'm actually getting tired of this. It sounds like "an economist's theory of social behaviour," which it indeed in a way is.
There are, then, numerous parallels between expressions of affection in love relations and expressions of approval in social associations generally. There are also some contrasts, however. The main source of the difference is that the condition in a collective structure largely govern the significance of social approval while the conditions established by a pair of lovers themselves primarily govern the significance of their affection for one another, although pair relations modify the significance of approval and the broader social situation affects the significance of affection, too. The baseline of prestige that makes others appreciate an individual's approval and the baseline of attraction that makes others appreciate an individual's affection rest on different foundations, since prestige is typically more firmly rooted in the social structure than is attraction. (Blau 1964: 86-87)
I can't follow the thought any more, but I keep typing these notes in case that I some day may.
Mauss and other anthropologists have called attention tot he significance and prevalence of the exchange of gifts andd services in simpler societies. "In theory such gifts are voluntary but in fact they are given and repaid under obligation. ... Further, what they exchange is not exclusively foods and wealth, real and personal property, and things of economic value. They exchange rather courtesies, entertainments, ritual, military assistance, women, children, dances, and feasts; and fairs in which the market is but one element and the circulation of wealth but one part of a wide and enduring contact." (Blau 1964: 89)
That is, there are other aspects to social exchange than economic considerations.
"'Power' (Macht) is the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance," according to Weber. Tawney's definition similarly centers on imposing one's will on others, except that he explicitly directs attention to the asymmetry of power relations: "Power may be defined as the capacity of an individual, or group of individuals, to modify the condduct of other individuals or groups in the manner which he desires, and to prevent his own conduct being modified in the manner in which he does not." (Blau 1964: 115)
Another definition of power to be thrown into the pool of so many others.
Talcott Parsons makes a parallel distinction between coercive power that rests on deterrence through negative sanctions and inducements in exchange transactions that rest on positive sanctions; "On the Concept of Influence," Public Opinion Quarterly, 27 (1963), 43-45, and "On the Concept of Political Power," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 107 (1963), 238-239. (Blau 1964: 116; footnote 5)
Som references.
Superior coercive power makes people relatively independent of others inasmuch as power includes the ability to prevent others from interfering with one's conduct. (Blau 1964: 120)
Autonomy as a tenet of power.


Post a Comment