Sociological theories of power


Power is defined as the ability to influence or control others and accomplish any task even when opposed by external forces. Max Weber was the first person to define power in social perspective. There are different theories and models that reasons out the distribution of power within the society.

Class theory of power

It was Karl Marx and his concept which in the later days came to be known by the name Marxism gave the idea of class theory of power.

According to him, every society was a mixture of two separate groups: the rich and the poor. The rich have a lot of resources like money, power etc while the poor people have a lack of these resources.

The rich people who controls the wealth dominates the society. Since they are the dominating force, so, they enjoy all the power and the powerless poor people have to dance on their whims. So, all the ruling class comes from the rich. The poor on the other hand is that class which suffers in the hands of the rich.

Marxism tells that this has been going on since the beginning of the human civilization. Whether it be the masters and slaves relation or the industrialist and the workers relation, this exploitation always occurs and it happens ince the rich controls all the money and power. So, the rich have all the money and power and privileges and the poor have none.

Elite theory of power

The elite theory of power is a political theory that suggests that power in a society is held by a small, elite group of individuals or organizations, rather than being distributed among a diverse array of groups and individuals. Elite theorists argue that a small group of people, often referred to as the "ruling class," holds the majority of power and that this power is used to control the rest of society.

Elite theorists argue that power is concentrated in the hands of a small, wealthy and privileged class, who use their wealth and status to control key institutions such as the government, media, and economy. They argue that these elites use their power to maintain their own privilege and to further their own interests, often at the expense of the general population.

Elite theorists argue that democratic institutions and processes are often just a facade and that the true decision-making power rests with the elite group. They also argue that the elite use their control over the media and other institutions to shape public opinion and to maintain their dominance.

Pluralist theory of power

The pluralist theory of power is a political theory that suggests that power in a society is distributed among a diverse array of interest groups and individuals, rather than being held by a single elite group or ruling class.

Pluralists argue that the distribution of power among different groups leads to a balance of power, which helps to ensure that no one group becomes too dominant. They also argue that the competition between groups helps prevent any one group from monopolizing power and leads to a more democratic and responsive government.

Pluralists argue that power is not only held by the state, but also by different organizations and groups that have different interests and agendas, thus leading to a dynamic and constantly shifting balance of power. They also argue that because of this balance, it is difficult for any one group or individual to maintain power for long periods of time, which helps to prevent tyranny or dictatorship.

Gender theory of power

This theory is pretty simple. It is telling that the men have all the power while the women have none. Just replace the rich of Marxism with men and poor with women and you’ll get the gender theory of power. Every society is a mixture of two separate genders: the men and the women. The men have a lot of resources like money, power etc while the women people have a lack of these resources.

This is one of the most basic sociological theories of power, stating that in all societies men own power and dominate society over women. The power is in the arms of the male crew. So it's about sexual dominance. Many feminist writers and activists support this sociological principle of power. They support the replacement of patriarchy and promotion of gender equality.


Power has always been one of the most sought after things for mankind. Throughout the pages of history, man has fought over power with one another. Power gives you control. The control to do what you like, and destroy what you dislike. This power has forced mankind over several battles, wars and destructions of unprecedented scale over the centuries. Everyone wants to be the most powerful man in this world. There’s hardly anybody who is indifferent when it comes to the gaining of more more power. A lot of things have impacted this power struggle over the centuries. Sociological forces such as class, gender etc. played a significant role over how much power one holds.


Q1. What do we mean by patriarchy?

Ans. Patriarchy is a social system which gives all powers to the male members of the society. It creates a gender discrimination and usually renders the females powerless in the society.

Q2. James Burnham worked on which theory of power?

Ans. James Burnham worked on the elite theory of power. According to him, a small group of individuals in the society hold the power and dominate all other sociological elements.

Q3. Name some famous feminist leaders..

Ans. Malala Yousafzai, Arundhati Roy, Angela Davis, Medha Patkar are some of the famous female activists.

Updated on: 17-Mar-2023


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