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Power-Dependence Theory

Linda D. Molm

Subject Sociology » Social Psychology, Sociological and Social Theory

Key-Topics power

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


Power-dependence theory is the name commonly given to the social exchange theory originally formulated by Richard Emerson (1962, 1972a, 1972b) . As the name suggests, the dynamics of the theory revolve around power, power use, and power-balancing operations, and rest on the central concept of dependence . Mutual dependence brings people together; that is, to the extent that people are mutually dependent, they are more likely to form exchange relations and groups and to continue in them. Inequalities in dependence create power imbalances that can lead to conflict and social change. The publication of Emerson's theory in 1972 marked a turning point in the development of the social exchange framework in sociology. Power-dependence theory departed from earlier exchange formulations by Peter Blau, George Homans, and John Thibaut and Harold Kelley in three important ways. First, Emerson replaced the relatively loose logic of his predecessors with a rigorously derived system of propositions that were more amenable to empirical test and the development of a strong research tradition. Second, Emerson established power and its use as the major topics of exchange theory – topics that would dominate theory development and research for the next 30 years. Third, by integrating principles of behavioral psychology with social network analysis, Emerson developed an exchange theory in which the ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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