Social Power: Definition & Concept

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  • 0:00 Definition of Social Power
  • 0:42 Examples of Social Power
  • 1:38 Laws
  • 2:35 Wealth
  • 3:24 Fame
  • 4:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Anthony Jordan

Anthony has taught Political Science at the university level and is working on his Ph.D. in Political Science.

Have you ever contemplated the concept of power within society? This lesson will define social power and give examples of it. Special attention will paid to where social power is found and how it is used. A short test will follow.

Definition of Social Power

Any definition of a type of power must first identify what power is. Power can be understood as the ability to make one do something which he or she would not otherwise do. Power can be found in many forms, such as physical and mental. It can also be found in situations besides one-on-one confrontations. One other type of power is social power.

Social power is a form of power that is found in society and within politics. While physical power relies upon strength to force another person to act, social power is found within the rules of society and laws of the land. It rarely uses one-on-one conflicts to force others to act in ways they normally would not.

Examples of Social Power

Social power can be found in many forms, but this lesson will focus on laws, wealth and fame. Laws can best be understood as codified social power. Wealth lacks the authority of laws. Wealth projects its social power by shaping the beliefs of the lower classes. Fame, like wealth, draws its social power from admiration and envy. Fame can help one transmit messages better than laws or one who only has wealth.

While it appears as if these three forms of social power work together, that is not a guarantee. Memorable politicians can be wealthy and famous, but many experience only one type of social power or, possibly, neither. Wealthy individuals may not choose to wield their potential political power or may not be famous. Given the prominence of the Internet today, it is very possible that famous or notable people may not be wealthy or have any degree of political influence.


Social power can be found in laws. During the time between the American Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, Jim Crow laws were found in the southeast United States. These laws segregated African-Americans and white Americans in society. They were separated into different schools, different areas in public and even different restrooms. This was possible because those in favor of Jim Crow laws had the social power to elect politicians who would codify these feelings into law.

Social power is not always negative. Social power played a role in ending Jim Crow laws. Over the hundred years where Jim Crow laws were in effect, opponents spent time gaining social power from all across the United States. Eventually, the social power of opponents of Jim Crow was strong enough from outside the southeast United States that it overwhelmed the social power of Jim Crow supporters. Repeals soon followed.

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