Beyond the Power Mystique

Power as Intersubjective Accomplishment

By Robert Prus

Subjects: Political Sociology
Paperback : 9780791440704, 338 pages, February 1999
Hardcover : 9780791440698, 338 pages, February 1999

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Table of contents

Foreword by Marvin Scott


Part I Introduction

1 Power and Human Interchange

Toward an Interactionist Conceptualization of Power

The World of Human Lived Experience

Power as Intersubjective Accomplishment

Overviewing the chapters

Part II The Power Motif

2 Structuralist Variants in the Literature

Rational Order Structuralism

Max Weber • Emile Durkheim • Talcott Parsons • Robert Merton • Anthony Giddens • Synthetic Order Theorists • The Stratificationists • The Exchange (and Equity) Theorists

Power Motifs within the Marxist Nexus

Acknowledging Fundamentalist Orientations • Postmodernist Ventures · Cultural Studies •·Marxist-Feminism • Pluralist Offshoots (Mills, Dahrendorf, Lukes, and Clegg) • Robert Michels and Columbia Socialism • Is There a Way Out ?

Conceptual Limitations

3 Tactical Themes in the Social Sciences

The Compliance and Influence Literature in Psychology

Collectivist Approaches

Georg Simmel • Robert Park • Herbert Blumer • Neil Smelser • Orrin Klapp • John McCarthy and Mayer Zald • Bert Klandermans and John Lofland • Carl Couch and Clark McPhail • Ralph Turner and Associates

Interest Group Dynamics and Political Arenas

Mass Communication Themes

Community Studies

Conceptual Limitations

4 Enduring Tactical Themes

Acknowledging Early Greek (and Roman) Roots

Providing Political Advice: Machiavelli and De Callières

Other Purveyors of Advice

In Context

Part III Power As Intersubjective Accomplishment

5 Attending to Human Interchange

The Interactionist Paradigm

Orientation Premises • Common Misconceptions • Subcultural Mosaics and Intersubjective Realities •·The Ethnographic Quest for Intersubjectivity • Generic Dimensions of Association

Interactionist Materials on Power

Envisioning Power in Interactionist Terms

Power as Definitional • Power as Processual • Associated Problematics

In Perspective

6 Engaging in Tactical Enterprise

Assuming Tactical Orientations

Enhancing Practices

Formulating Plans and Making Preparations • Attending to Target Circumstances • Shaping Images of Reality (and Invoking Deception) • Cultivating Relationships

Focusing Procedures

Indicating Lines of Action • Promoting Target Interests

Neutralizing and Debasing Strategies

Leveraging Tactics

Establishing Consensus • Usurping Agency • Using Inducements and Other Treatments • Bargaining with Targets • Appealing to Existing Relationships and Community Affiliations

Autonomizing Endeavors

Exercising Persistence and Experiencing Openness

Exercising Persistence • Experiencing Tactical Openness

7 Extending the Theater of Operations

Working with Third-Party Agents

Consulting with Third Parties • Obtaining Representatives (Agents) • Making Third-Party Referrals • Pursuing Adjudication Developing Collective Ventures

Establishing Associations • Objectifying Associations • Encountering Outsiders

Generating (and Enforcing) Policy

Pursuing Positional Control

Promoting Totalizing Associations

Using the Media

Developing Political Agendas

Implementing Governmental Forums • Invoking Military Operations • Establishing Control Agencies

In Context

8 Experiencing Target Roles (with Lorraine Prus)

Assuming Target Roles

Defining Self as Subject to Influence • Acknowledging the Receptive Self • Experiencing the Vulnerable Self • Developing a Restrained Self • Deploying the Elusive Self

Invoking the Tactician Self

Initiating Activity toward [Tacticians] • Resisting Tacticians • Claiming Target Status

Assuming Competitive Stances

Participating in Collective Events

In Perspective

9 Engaging the Power Motif


Index of Names

Index of Terms

Locating power within the symbolic interactionist framework, this book permeates much of the mystique shrouding "power" and examines the ways in which notions of power, control, influence and the like are brought into human existence.


Despite the considerable attention given to 'power' by foundational sources such as Machiavelli, Hobbs, Weber, Durkheim, and Marx, and those social theorists who have built on their works, surprisingly little attention has been given to the study of power as an enacted feature of community life. Locating power more directly within a symbolic interactionist framework, Beyond the Power Mystique not only enables scholars to permeate much of the mystique shrouding power but, explicitly viewing power as intersubjective accomplishment, the material presented here fosters a research agenda that is highly attentive to the collectively articulated aspects of power relations.

Consideration is given to the ways in which power is brought into existence, implemented, experienced, sustained, objectified, resisted, dissipated, and reconstituted in actual practice. Addressing the full range of associations occurring in all human arenas, from small group settings to large scale theaters of operations, this volume provides a conceptually viable means of synthesizing so-called "macro" and "micro" realms of power. Prus considers people's definitions of, and routings into, situations of power, as well as the dilemmas they face, the strategies they assume, and the limitations they encounter as they enter into interchanges with others on both more individualized and collectively coordinated bases and in both long-term and more situated instances.

Robert Prus is Professor of Sociology at the University of Waterloo, Ontario. He is also the author of Symbolic Interaction and Ethnographic Research: Intersubjectivity and the Study of Human Lived Experience and, Subcultural Mosaics and Intersubjective Realities: An Ethnographic Research Agenda for Pragmatizing the Social Sciences, both published by SUNY Press.


"This book will become a 'must have' item for many sociologists and practitioners. I am most impressed with Prus's keen understanding of the processual nature of human reality. He has brought us face-to-face with the intersubjective, providing a much needed return to empirical questions that are grounded in 'lived experience. ' Prus's grasp of the theoretical underpinnings of interactionism, along with his deep knowledge of power processes, highlights the important contributions ethnographic investigations have been making all along and will continue to make. " -- Lori Holyfield, University of Arkansas

"Prus shows a great insight into the subject and offers a first-rate, often unique and imaginative, analysis of power. His lists of steps, stages, features, and/or subprocesses associated with a host of social phenomena will, undoubtedly, guide future researchers in their investigations of social life. They strike me as unique constructions that provide clear evidence of his well-developed ethnographer's eye for the complexity of social processes. " -- Thomas J. Morrione, Colby College