Institutional Power: Definition & Concept

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  • 0:00 Institutional Power
  • 1:12 Examples
  • 2:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Susan Fenner

Susan has an MBA in Management from the University of North Alabama. She teaches online and campus-based Business courses.

Power is the ability to coerce or control people or situations, but what do we mean by 'institutional power?' Who holds institutional power, and how is it used? Let's take a closer look.

Institutional Power

When King Henry VIII of England wanted to annul his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn, Pope Clement VII refused to grant the annulment. One thing led to another, and by the time the dust had settled, Catherine was out, Anne was in, the Pope excommunicated Henry from the Roman Catholic Church, and Parliament made Henry the Supreme Head of the Church of England.

The authority of the Pope as head of the Roman Catholic Church, Henry as the King of England, and Parliament as the highest legislature in England are all examples of institutional power.

Institutional power is the power wielded by entities like governments, churches, and corporations to control people and direct their behavior through the use of rewards and punishments. Entities with institutional power and their agents have the official authority or the ability to decide what is best for others and to allocate resources.

Institutional power exists in situations where authority has been socially approved and accepted as legitimate. In other words, institutions get their power from the fact that society as a whole agrees that they have a right to their authority over others.


Governments can exercise institutional power in many ways. For example, they can create and enforce laws, collect taxes, make school compulsory, declare war, and compel military service, just to name a few. In the United States, the President, Congress, and judges all act with the institutional power of the government.

Churches can grant or withhold rites and sacraments, like marriage ceremonies and communion, from their members. They can excommunicate (exclude) members who don't abide by their rules. Using the Roman Catholic Church as an example, the Pope, cardinals, bishops, and priests act with the institutional power of the Church.

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