Date of Award

8-2010

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Psychology

Major Professor

Debora R. Baldwin

Committee Members

Sandra P. Thomas, Lowell A. Gaertner, Michael A. Olson, William L. Seaver

Abstract

A hermeneutic phenomenological approach was used to investigate the meaning of everyday experiences of power. Twenty interviews were conducted wherein participants were asked to discuss situations where they were aware of power. They were asked one prompt question, “Think of a time when you were aware of power and describe that experience as fully as possible.” Thematic analysis yielded a structure that consisted of four themes, position, control, respect, and prestige, all situated within a ground of hierarchy. The understanding of power revealed by the data analysis was discussed in light of both qualitative and quantitative studies of power, particularly those that addressed French and Raven’s (1959) bases of power. French and Raven proposed that there were five forms of power: coercive, reward, legitimate, referent, and expert. Most experiences described within the current study can be classified according to their schema. Six situations, however, did not fit French and Raven’s typology. The power possessed by electronic equipment and natural/chance occurrences was discussed and represents a non-social power type that is characterized by an utter lack of control on the part of the participant. Furthermore, the underlying mechanism via which various types of power occur and interact with each other is not often addressed in the literature. The current findings, thus, serve to provide some insight into how power forms are experienced and made meaningful to the individual. Current findings suggest that a hierarchical relationship is the primary setting wherein power is identified and understood. Within the hierarchical relationship, various forms of power are drawn upon in order to gain and/or maintain control. The type, intensity, and successfulness of the type of power used is augmented by an individual’s position within the hierarchical relationship and by the reciprocity of respect that exists within the relationship. The presence of respect and prestige as figural elements in the experience of power are unique in that many studies that seek to understand and define power look to the amount of control that is possessed and/or exerted by power holders and ignore the impact of the perceptions of non-power holders.

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Table of Contents, Abstract, and Acknowledgements

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