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The normative regulation of power

Advances in Group Processes

ISBN: 978-0-76230-651-0, eISBN: 978-1-84950-049-4

Publication date: 31 July 2000


In most theories of authority, normative regulation is the price that power pays for legitimacy. But what are the mechanisms by which norms regulate power and under what conditions do they in fact constrain its use? In an experimental study of a three-level hierarchy of power and authority, we found that the internal constraint of conscience alone was not sufficient to constrain the abuse of power by authority: Where authority had something to gain, one in four Ss abused power out of self-interest; where it had nothing to gain, one in three followed their own conscience rather than the situation's norms.But internal constraints are not the only constraints on the exercise of power by authority. The mechanisms of the normative regulation of power depend on the fact that the exercise of authority, at least in organizations, is a collective phenomenon. It is not simply a matter of a superior, A, exercising authority over a subordinate, B, but of multiple actors executing the directives of A in such a way that the behavior of B is in fact directed. The normative regulation of power depends on how norms regulate these other agents of power and how dependence on these other agents, in turn, controls the behavior of A.


Zelditch, M. and Walker, H.A. (2000), "The normative regulation of power", Advances in Group Processes (Advances in Group Processes, Vol. 17), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 155-178.



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