TMA06: How useful is the theme of power relations for our ability to make effective critical evaluation in social psychology? Illustrate your essay with reference to at least two topics of research in DD307.

TMA06: How useful is the theme of power relations for our ability to make effective critical evaluation in social psychology? Illustrate your essay with reference to at least two topics of research in DD307.

Power relation is all about how certain groups in the society are able to interact with other groups and influence them in one way or another. It is critical in the way that different forms of knowledge are interpreted, produced and taken up in the society. Power relations cannot be identified as a property of any individual. It is something dynamic that emerges in different knowledge, relations and practices. This form of power is not just something that powerful individuals tend to impose on the powerless in the society since it is a two-way dynamic. It is not oppressive since it is positive in a wider sense (Hollway, 2007). Whenever two groups co-exist together, there is the possibility that one group tends to exert control on the other. The nature of relations can be clear at times, but can also be ambiguous. An example of a clear relation is that of slaves whereby they are controlled by other groups explicitly. Crowds on the other hand, have ambiguous relations in the sense that you cannot really tell who is in control. There are also more forms of control that are subtle like how the roles in movies tend to be dominated by men. The aspect showcases a patriarchal dominance privilege that men have over women (Fischer, 2012). Power relations help in making various evaluations in social psychology. This can be clearly outlined by examining different topics involved in social psychology.

Among the topics in DD307 that shows how power relations are critical for effective evaluation is obedience. Obedience is taken to conventionally mean “compliance with a request, law, order or general submission to authority” (Plotnik & Kouyoumdjian, 2012). Studying obedience entails analysing the power that has been bestowed on various structures upon individuals’ behaviour. This usually occurs against the agency that is adopted towards resisting such structures. Through obedience people are able to follow what their colleagues want without any failure. Some situations in the society make these individuals believe that they should be doing what is required of then at all times. People bestowed with the power to control others are believed to use various mechanisms in their quest to influence and make people subdue to their demands. This is a favourable aspect of showing how power relations can be used in evaluating obedience, which is a social psychology topic.

A good example of how obedience is construed using power relations is the research that was conducted by Milgram in 1960s. Power relations in Milgram’s experiments were constructed by the use of language. Several prods were used during the experiments, and their main objective was to influence the participants to continue administering shocks to their stooges. Despite some stooges lacking the willingness to continue, the prods used led them to obey and continue with the experiments. Based on how the stooges begged for mercy, participants thought that they were harming them. However, they were convinced by Milgram that the shocks that they were administering could not result to any permanent tissue damage on the side of the stooges (Gibson, 2011). Based on this assurance most of the participants continued to administer the shocks despite the stooges begging them to stop. This shows that they obeyed since they believed that Milgram had more knowledge regarding the situation. They believed his words to be true since to them he was an expert in this field. What this shows is that through power relations people will obey other individuals that they come in contact with and believe that they have more knowledge regarding the issue at hand. This is the same form of power relations that exist between doctors and patients. Patients usually obey the guidelines given to them by the doctors since they deem them more knowledgeable with matters regarding their health. Milgram’s experiments can also show another form of power relations that has been used to trigger obedience prospects. The participants viewed Milgram and his team as authority figures. This is because they recruited them for the experiment, and they seemed to be in control of everything. This might have created a notion on the side of the participants that they had an obligation of taking orders from them. The aspect explains why they obeyed the prods that were directed towards them (Gibson, 2011).

Another aspect of obedience that shows how power relations are critical in evaluating social psychology is on politics. A good example is the case of Hitler. He was a powerful figure during his reign as the Chancellor of Germany. Based on the fact that he was a leader, he knew that people were looking up to him. As a result, he used this aspect of power relations in attempt of trying to influence people obey his orders regardless of whether they were meant to do good or they were detrimental to the society. Through the power relations created at that time, he used the aspect of manipulation to convince people (Fischer, 2012). He would quote various scholars like the Darwin Theory, which promulgated survival for the fittest. As a result, people would see the sense of such theories mostly because they were being upheld by their leader. It made it easy for soldiers and other people to kill without any questions. Hitler also used coercion on individuals that seemed to resist his orders. This case shows how power relations can instigate manipulation and coercion, which leads people to obeying their leaders.

The topic on crowds can also be used to show how power relations help in evaluation of social psychology. A crowd is usually a group of people gathered together through a common objective. This might be through looting, political rally and sports event among others (Dixon & Mahendran, 2012). Some people refer to crowd behaviour as an emotional issue. This is because some people will view them as agents of change while others view them as unruly mobs. Studying crowds is an interesting aspect in social psychology since it takes place at the centre of individual-group levels. Power relations that are found in crowds tend to be ambiguous in various respects. This is because one cannot exactly tell who is in control or the mechanisms that they are using. Through crowds people usually have a feeling of belonging since they are interacting with people that they share a common objective with. For this reason, there is like an obligation to do what other people within the crowd are doing. It is like people are hypnotised and they follow other people’s actions without any questions or second thoughts. Within this crowds power relations are constructed on the basis that there is an individual or a group of individuals that influence the others. There is always that one person that comes with the idea, rumour, and action among others (Fischer, 2012). Other people since they have already been immersed in the crowd tend to follow whatever the people initiating these things are doing. The aspect of anonymity makes it even easier for them to be involved in activities that they would not do as individuals.

Looting and rioting that was experienced in London, in 2012 could be used as a favourable example of explaining how power relations guide the actions of the crowd. During this period only few individuals knew what had happened in order to trigger the reactions that were exhibited by the public. It began with people bringing along different rumours. The people who coined the rumours had some form of influence over the crowds. Since they were part of the crowd, they used this form of power relation to influence others in doing what they thought needed to be done. To some extent they might have wanted to create an opportunity for themselves to loot several things from the shops nearby. It was obvious that the crowds would follow in rioting and looting since under this circumstances it is like individuals are hypnotised and do not think for themselves. The rumour that spread to most people was that Mark Duggan and another 16 year old were killed by police during a demonstration (Castella & McClatchey, 2011). As a result, the public started rioting against the police for the action they were deemed to have undertaken. No one took their time to ascertain whether the rumours were true or not. People were just doing what their colleagues were leading them into doing. This is an indication of how power relations play a critical role in evaluating how crowds behave and explaining why they behave in that manner.

The topic on families also plays a role in showcasing the importance of power relations in evaluation of social psychology. Families are usually regarded as significant institutions that provide people with a favourable environment to develop physically, emotionally and socially. Most relationship experiences that individuals possess are dependent on the family systems that they have experienced in their lives. It is also through these families that an individual’s sense of individuality, connection, collectivity, independence, separation, belonging and dependence take shape (Hollway, 2007). Power relations within the family exist in different ways. Members of the family tend to influence other members in their own different ways. It is like everyone has a bargaining power when it comes to influence as they interact in their daily routines.

To begin with, power relations in families are construed by cultural and historical assumptions. Since time in memorial there exists various norms that members of the society were expected to observe. Among the areas that have been involved is the division of labour and power in the society. From the feminist perspective is that there is unequal division of labour in families when it comes to household chores (Fischer, 2012). Women are usually tasked with more activities compared to men. It is evident that women contribute more to the family when it comes to housework and childcare compared to men. The situation has persisted for a long time since men have never been willing to participate equally when it comes to domestic chores. This seems unfair to women, but to some extent they can derive some advantages from the situation. Women tend to construct power relations based on the role that they play in the family. Since they are responsible with childcare activities, they usually tend to have more influence on their children compared to men. They have an opportunity to ensure that they develop in a manner that they deem fit. When it comes to issues regarding the housework, women tend to have more influence on matters regarding the house. They are usually responsible on the general outlook, and the activities that take place in the house.

Another cultural and historical assumption that creates power relations in the family is that men are the head of the family. The aspect has enabled men to exert influence in their families in different ways (Fischer, 2012). What they say in most cases is usually followed without much debate. This is for both the woman in the house and the children. As a result, women tend to be submissive to their husbands. They are at times forced to do what they do not want just because they have to. Children also tend to adhere more to what their fathers want compared to their mothers. This shows how power relations can be used to evaluate some aspects about the family, which is part of social psychology.

In conclusion, power relation is useful in helping with the evaluation of social psychology. Through power relations it is easy to understand how people in authority tend to influence their subjects into obeying their orders. This has been shown above by taking a look at the experiments that were conducted by Milgram regarding obedience, and also how Hitler used to influence people. Power relations also explain the mechanisms through which crowds operate under. This has been elaborated using the riots and looting that took place in London, in 2011.There is also an explanation of how families co-exist by use of power relations. Several cultural and historical assumptions are usually used in order to create varied power relations.



Castella, T., & McClatchey, C. (2011). ‘UK riots: What turns people into looters?’ BBC News Magazine. (accessed 15 October 2014).

Dixon, J., & Mahendran, K. (2012). ‘Crowds’ in Holloway, W., Lucy, H., Phoenix, A. And Lewis, G (eds) Social Psychology Matters, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Fischer, B. (2012). Translation and the reconfiguration of power relations: Revisiting role and context of translation and interpreting. Berlin: LIT Verlag Münste.

Gibson, S. (2011), ‘Milgram’s obedience experiments: a rhetorical analysis’, British Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 51.

Hollway, W. (2007). Social Psychology: past and present’, in Hollway, W, Lucey, H. and Phoenix, A. (2007) (eds) Social Psychology Matters. Milton Keynes: The Open University Press.

Plotnik, R., & Kouyoumdjian, H. (2012). Discovery Series: Introduction to Psychology. London: Cengage Learning.



Before undertaking DD307 I had some expectations of the things that I would want to know regarding myself and other people around me. So far most of my expectations have been met. To begin with, I have come to have a dipper understanding of social psychology. I now understand that the discipline attempts to explain how behaviours, thoughts and feelings of an individual are influenced in the presence of other people. Various scientific methods and perspectives have been used in the module in an attempt of trying to make it clear with regards to these aspects. It is evident that people tend to behave differently when in the presence of others compared to when they emerge as independent individuals. I have learned more on this aspect by analysing the topic on crowds. I have had an idea of how people can be irrational, violent and unreasonable when subjected in various crowds’ settings. Under this respect, I have also learnt how important groups are to people. They give them a sense of belonging and something to live for. This is because people find other individuals in these groups who share similar views and sentiments regarding various things in life. The aspect encourages them to carry on, and get the best out of life. There are other topics in the module that have also been an eye opener along the way.  For instance the topic on families has educated me on how much a family system can shape an individual’s life in different areas. This means that unfavourable family upbringing could be detrimental in an individual’s future life. The topic on obedience also interested me because I learnt of how people can be submissive regardless of whether they want to or not without any form of coercion being used. Initially, I could also wonder how people had the ability to do some things that I would not have the audacity of doing. Now I have come to understand it is all about people’s attitude and personality.



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