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University of Connecticut Social Psychology Intergroup Relations

Power Basis Theory

PowerBases

Power Basis Theory :: Description :: Researching Power :: Findings :: Teaching Resources :: Collaborators :: Bibliography

I. People have specific recurring types of survival needs. Power concerns the ability to meet needs.

For each type of need, there is a matching kind of power and sensitivity which can motivate actions to seek power:
Basic Survival Need Corresponding Type of Power Sensitivity
To be Whole  -Violence, +Healing -Fear, +Well-being
To use resources Access to resources; Control of resources Hunger, thirst, cold, satiation
To belong Legitimacy (acceptance) in a  Community Anxiety, Loneliness, Togetherness, Desire for approval
To be cared for Obligation Mistrust, sense of duty; empathy, attachment
To transcend oneself Sexuality, self-expansion, collective identity
Desire for intimacy, awe, hope
To interact competently with one’s environment Knowledge Curiosity,  Feelings of confusion, Mastery-striving, aversion to failure

II. Power and Survival

Power Basis Theory argues that these kinds of power recur in human (interpersonal and intergroup) relations because they are all necessities for survival.
For human beings, surviving and thriving entails meeting both physical and social needs.
Constructive power is the ability to obtain survival necessities from one’s environment (physical, social).
Destructive power curtails others’ ability to obtain their survival necessities.

III. Power is a joint function of the ecology and the person.

Deficiencies in people’s social and natural ecology can also lead to failures to survive.

IV. Psychology of Power

  • People have psychological sensations to detect their needs and how their environment is likely to afford those needs.
  • The psychology of desire and satiation are important aspects of the sensibility and motivational systems to help people meet their needs.
  • There are potential faults in the psychological sensibility/motivation systems:
    • Psychologically, it can be hard to distinguish desire from need.
    • When people are deprived for too long or traumatized, sensibility and motivation can become faulty.
    • Miscalibrated sensitivity systems (e.g., trusting an unreliable way to meet needs) can also cause failures to survive.

VI. The Transformable (Fungible) Nature of Power

V. The Dynamic Nature of Power

The state of power changes most of the time because: Individuals’ and group’s needs develop, may be met, then recur.

  • How easily the environment meets one’s needs (ecological affordance) also changes.
  • Other people, with their own survival needs, are always part of one’s ecology.
  • People can often engage in social transactions to change a particular form of power they have (e.g., material resources, knowledge) into a different kind of power (e.g., legitimacy, violence). This is what makes power fungible.

VI. This summary of Power Basis Theory incorporates and extends many other theories and approaches to power. It also contrasts with some of those.