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PSIR 1A-7: Concept of Power – Previous Year Questions & Answers

Model Answers to PYQs (2018-2023)

1] Foucault’s concept of power [2023/10m/150w/1d]

Foucault rejected the traditional view of power as something possessed by certain individuals or institutions. Instead, he saw power as a pervasive and diffuse force that operates at all levels of society. Power, according to Foucault, is not a fixed entity but a dynamic and constantly shifting phenomenon.

Foucault argued that power is not solely repressive; it is also productive. Power doesn’t just limit or suppress individuals; it shapes and constructs their identities, behaviours, and social norms. Power generates knowledge and discourse, defining what is considered “normal” and “deviant.”

Foucault introduced the concept of the “power/knowledge” nexus, suggesting that power and knowledge are closely intertwined. Knowledge is not an objective and neutral pursuit but is shaped by power dynamics. Those in positions of power have the ability to shape what counts as “truth” and “knowledge.”

His famous example of the panopticon, a prison design where a single guard can observe all prisoners without them knowing when they are being watched, illustrates the disciplinary power that exists in modern societies. Foucault also introduced the concepts of “bio-power” and “governmentality” to explain how modern states and institutions exert power over populations.

Foucault analyzed how power operates through discursive practices—language, knowledge, and systems of classification. He explored how categories, labels, and definitions are used to exercise control and establish norms. These discourses contribute to the formation of identities and social hierarchies.

Foucault’s concept of power has had a profound impact on contemporary understandings of power dynamics and social structures. It challenges traditional notions of power as a top-down, repressive force and highlights the ways in which power operates within the fabric of everyday life, shaping knowledge, identities, and societal norms. [278 words]

2] Write on the Bases of Power. [2022/10m/150w/1d]

In 1959, John R. P. French and Bertram H. Raven proposed one of the most widely cited analyses of social power. They defined social influence as a change in the belief, attitude, or behavior of a person (the target of influence) which results from the action of another person (an influencing agent).

They also defined social power as the potential for such influence, that is, the ability of the agent to bring about such a change using available resources. French and Raven identified five bases of power: coercive, reward, legitimate, expert, and referent. To this was later added a sixth: information power.

The bases of power differ according to the manner in which social changes are implemented, the permanence of such changes, and the ways in which each basis of power is established and maintained.

The bases of powers are:

Legitimate – This comes from the belief that a person has the formal right to make demands, and to expect others to be compliant and obedient.

Reward – This results from one person’s ability to compensate another for compliance.

Expert – This is based on a person’s high levels of skill and knowledge.

Referent – This is the result of a person’s perceived attractiveness, worthiness and right to others’ respect.

Coercive – This comes from the belief that a person can punish others for noncompliance.

Informational – This results from a person’s ability to control the information that others need to accomplish something.

As long as humans have had to interact with one another, they have utilized power strategies, and in various degrees the strategies have been effective even when an agent has had no formal knowledge of the bases of social power. The model tells us how the process of power operates and the conditions under which social influence is more or less effective. [299 words]

3] Political ideology is primarily concerned with the allocation and utilization of Power.” Comment. [2021/15m/200w/3c]

Ideology may be defined as ‘a systematic set of arguments and beliefs used to justify an existing or desired social order’. Ideological power represents the manipulative power of the dominant class which holds sway on the thinking and emotions of the people.

When people are made to believe that a particular system of government is the best system, they will not be inclined to challenge the authority of the ruling classes. When people have learnt to respect their laws, the need for coercion to secure their obedience would be eliminated or at any rate, minimized.

Political ideology involves not only a set of beliefs; but is always action-oriented. It puts forward a ’cause’ for which people are prepared not only to fight but to make a lot of sacrifices. As Alan Ball has elaborated: “Individuals are prepared to fight for causes, often realistically hopeless causes, or to undergo ill-treatment and torture in the belief that some political values are superior to others.”

Marx and Engels noted that ‘the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas’. According to them the class which owns the means of material production in any society also controls the means of mental production. Antonio Gramsci gave the concept of ‘hegemony’ to explain the phenomenon of ideological domination, particularly of the capitalist class, in the contemporary society. Hegemony, in this sense, denotes a form of rule where power is apparently exercised with the consent of the ruled. 

Politics is concerned with a struggle for power to control public affairs, that is, to have access to positions of taking decisions for the allocation of public goods, services, opportunities and honours. Political ideology provides legitimacy to the ruling classes and helps them maintain their stronghold on political power which gives them the control over the public affairs. [303 words]

4] Comment on tools of legitimating of the State [2021/10m/150w/1d]

Legitimacy refers to the quality of an act or arrangement which is regarded as lawful by those affected by it. The state gets authority when its power has legitimacy.

In the early days of the state, when the ‘divine right of the king’ was in vogue, religion was the tool for legitimising the state. The works of Hugo Grotius, Hobbes and Samuel Pufendorf brought in the idea of ‘consent’ as a source of legitimacy. In the modern world, with ‘Lockean’ liberal ideals, the social contract and the protection of natural rights gave legitimacy to the state. This view was criticised by the likes of Burke, calling consent ‘wishful thinking’.

With the utilitarian view, the source of legitimising was the beneficial consequences of the state for people. It was followed by ‘public reason and democratic approval’. Today, the state attains popular allegiance by securing its citizens’ welfare and simultaneously enabling checks to be placed on its own power by bringing in a constitution.

Machiavelli told his Prince that power lasts as long as the Prince, but the authority would transcend him, keeping the state stable. Only in the absence of legitimacy, the state is compelled to become tyrannical to save itself. [200 words]

5] Examine the nature and meaning of power. [2020/15m/200w/3b]

It was his focus on the power that made Machiavelli the first modern thinker and the power became the prime variable of political analysis, after him.

The most well-known definition of power is given by Robert Dahl that ‘A has power over B to the extent that A can get B to do something which B would not otherwise do’. With this, Dahl attributes power to individuals, and the substance of power is domination over others.

This understanding, however is challenged by many streams of thought.

Marxists view power as emerging from the substructure of relations of production, and feminists understand that power is located within the structures of patriarchy. Hence, power belongs not just to an individual but to a group or a structure. For a Marxist, the nature of power is exploitation, and for a feminist, it is the oppression and subjugation of women.

Hannah Arendt locates power in a community. According to her, power generates when people act and communicate together in a shared enterprise. Her power is not just domination but an enhanced capacity emerging from collective action.

On the other hand, for Foucault, power is not repressive but productive and does not emanates from a single source but flows in the capillary of the society.

With the change and evolution of the state, the meaning and nature of power keep on evolving. [227 words]

6] Explain the relationship between power, authority and legitimacy. [2018/15m/200w/3c]

In political science the concepts of power, authority and legitimacy are quiet interlinked and sometimes even used as substitute. A micro-observations however, tells a different story.

Different scholars have taken different view of power. For Karl Marx, the power is ability of capitalist class to set an agenda for functioning of state. Gramsci suggests ideology as a means to create and exercise power. While Hanna Arendt says that real power lies with people. It is sui generis, and is always legitimate.

Legitimacy is the consent of the governed for exercise of power. Legitimacy is a source of power. When people find the government is working in their favour, their rights are being taken care of and their concerns are addressed, it gives legitimacy to state. The Third Reich for example, was an illegitimate government in the eyes of Jewish citizens.

Max Weber defines legitimate power as authority. He is critical of Marx and argues that revolution did not took place as suggested. It is because people consider the power of state as legitimate. He further suggests three types of authorities based on the source of their legitimacy i.e. charisma, customs & traditions or law itself.

It is said that politics is all about shaping and sharing of power. Government all over the world try to gain legitimacy of people by various means. And authority can be said to be the end result of this combination. [235 words]

The post contains answers to the last 6-year papers i.e. (2023-2018). Answers to the previous year questions from 2013-2017 are a part of our book PSIR Optional Model Answers to PYQs (2013-2022)

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why u skipped 2019s question

Abhijeet Pimparkar

There was no question on the topic of Power in 2019 Akshay. If you’re looking for some specific question, let me know, probably it will be covered under some other topic.