Futurist Alvin Toffler describes three forms of power and shows how these have changed over time.


The most basic form of power is violence, or physical forms of power. ‘Might is right’ is their watchword and it is close to the law of the jungle in operation.

The basic promise is ‘do as you are told and you won’t get hurt’.

Those who gain the power of violence do so by controlling the mechanisms of physical domination, from armies and police forces to the ownership of specific weapons.


Money is a more flexible form of power than violence as it can be exchanged for pretty much anything you want, from goods to services of all kinds.

Money can be viewed as ‘stored time/action’: you work and are given money, then give the money to others to save time/action. The trick in acquiring wealth is to invest the money in ways that it provides a maximum return on investment.

Those who gain wealth do so largely through a superior ability (or sometimes luck) in investment, taking controlled risks and gaining disproportionate returns.


Knowledge is the ultimate form of power and can be used to acquire both wealth and violence, if applied in the right way. ‘Knowledge is power’ is a common saying that highlights this.

Further information on power:

In a notable study of power conducted by social psychologists John R. P. French and Bertram Raven in 1959, power is divided into five separate and distinct forms. In 1965 Raven revised this model to include a sixth form by separating the informational power base as distinct from the expert power base.[1]

Relating to social communication studies, power in social influence settings has introduced a large realm of research pertaining to persuasion tactics and leadership practices. Through social communication studies, it has been theorized that leadership and power are closely linked. It has been further presumed that different forms of power affect one’s leadership and success. This idea is used often in organizational communication and throughout the workforce. In a notable study of power conducted by social psychologists John R. P. French and Bertram Raven in 1959, power is divided into five separate and distinct forms.[1] They identified those five bases of power as coercive, reward, legitimate, referent, and expert. This was followed by Raven’s subsequent identification in 1965 of a sixth separate and distinct base of power: informational power.[2] Furthermore, French and Raven defined social influence as a change in the belief, attitude, or behavior of a person (the target of influence) which results from the action of another person (an influencing agent), and they defined social power as the potential for such influence, that is, the ability of the agent to bring about such a change using available resources.[3]

Though there have been many formal definitions of leadership that did not include social influence and power, any discussion of leadership must inevitably deal with the means by which a leader gets the members of a group or organization to act and move in a particular direction.[3]

Whereby, this is to be considered “power” in social influential situations.

The bases of social power have evolved over the years with benefits coming from advanced research and theoretical developments in related fields. On the basis of research and evidence, there have been many other developments and elaborations on the original theory.French and Raven developed an original model outlining the change dependencies and also further delineating each power basis.[4]

Table 1

Basis of Power Social Dependence of Change Importance of Surveillance
Coercion Socially Dependent Important
Reward Socially Dependent Important
Legitimacy Socially Dependent Unimportant
Expert Socially Dependent Unimportant
Reference Socially Dependent Unimportant
Informational Socially Independent Unimportant

Though it is a common understanding that most social influence can still be understood by the original six bases of power, the foundational bases have been elaborated and further differentiated. Further Differentiating the Bases of Social Power[4]

Table 2

Basis of Power Further Differentiation
Coercion Impersonal Coercion & Personal Coercion
Reward Impersonal Reward & Personal Reward
Legitimacy Formal Legitimacy (position power),Legitimacy of Reciprocity, Equity & Dependence (Powerlessness)
Expert Positive and Negative Expert
Referent Positive and Negative Referent
Informational Direct and Indirect Information

Bases of power

As mentioned above, there are now six main concepts of power strategies consistently studied in social communication research. They are described as Coercive, Reward, Legitimate, Referent, Expert, and Informational. Additionally, research has shown that source credibility has an explicit effect on the bases of power used in persuasion.[6]

Source credibility, the bases of power, and objective power, which is established based on variables such as position or title, are interrelated. The levels of each have a direct relationship in the manipulation and levels of one another.[3]

The bases of power differ according to the manner in which social changes are implemented, the permanence of such changes, and the ways in which each basis of power is established and maintained.[3]

It is very important to notate the effectiveness of power is very situational in manner. Being there are now six solid bases of power studied in the Communication field, it is very important to know the situational uses of each power, focusing on when each is most effective. According to French and Raven, “it is of particular practical interest to know what bases of power or which power strategies are most likely to be effective, but it is clear that there is no simple answer.[3]

For example, a power strategy that works immediately but relies on surveillance (for example, reward power or coercive power) may not last once surveillance ends. One organizational study found that reward power tended to lead to greater satisfaction on the part of employees, which means that it might increase influence in a broad range of situations. Coercive power was more effective in influencing a subordinate who jeopardized the success of the overall organization or threatened the leader’s authority, even though in the short term it also led to resentment on the part of the target. A power strategy that ultimately leads to private acceptance and long-lasting change (for example, information power) may be difficult to implement, and consume considerable time and energy. In the short term, complete reliance on information power might even be dangerous (for example, telling a small child not to run into the street unattended). A military officer leading his troops into combat might be severely handicapped if he had to give complete explanations for each move. Instead, he would want to rely on unquestioned legitimate position power, backed up by coercive power. Power resources, which may be effective for one leader, dealing with one target or follower, may not work for a different leader and follower. The manner in which the power strategy is utilized will also affect its success or failure. Where coercion is deemed necessary, a leader might soften its negative effects with a touch of humor. There have been studies indicating that cultural factors may determine the effectiveness of power strategies.”[3]

Power establishes itself in several forms. According to John French and Bertram Raven , expert power, reward power, legitimate power, referent power , and coercive power are among the five bases of social power.[7] Information power was added as the sixth base of power later by Bertram Raven.[2]

About arnulfo

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