About the Relational Power and the Relationship of Power

In public speech it is common to note that the media is the fourth power after the legislative, executive and judicial powers. Like the general concept of “power”, the media power also has its own peculiarities, fields of activity, beneficiaries and targets. In order to understand the relationships between the Armenian post-revolutionary authorities and the Armenian media, their current or possible developments, one first needs to understand the power, then the media, and only after that the relationship between the media and the power. While talking about power, we need to specify our perception of the phenomenon of power, so that the readers can understand our starting point. Thus, power is a relational capacity, a process, that enables a subject with the relevant opportunity (social actor) to have an asymmetrical influence on the other social actor. This influence supposes that the subject implementing it is going to be driven by the will, interests, and values of an empowered actor. Power can be exercised by means of coercion (physical violation or its possibility) and/or by the construction of meaning on the basis of discourses which are followed by the social actors. Power relationships are framed by the domination corresponding to social institutions. The relational capacity of power is conditioned, but not determined, by the structural capacity of domination[i]. 

Relational capacity means that power is viewed as a relationship, not as an object. Asymmetrically means that even though authoritative relationships are reciprocal, they are not reciprocally equivalent or equal, there is always a subordination of one side. As there is no absolute power, a zero degree of influence of those subjected to power doesn’t exist too. This explains that there is always a possibility of resistance that can call into question that particular situation of power relationship. Furthermore, in any power relationship there is a certain degree of compliance and acceptance by which those subjected to power consciously actualize the will of the superior. When the opposition and the resistance prevails over compliance and acceptance both in quality and in quantity, power relationships are transformed: the terms of the relationship change, those who have power lose it, and ultimately both institutional and structural changes take place. Or the opposite, power relationships can become non-social relationships. This happens when power relationships are enacted by structural domination backed by direct and lasting physical force. In that case, physical violence destroys the capacity of resisting of subjected actors, thus canceling the power relationship itself. However, it can be considered social, as it can affect survivors. Here it can be claimed that systemic physical violence is not a social relationship because it leads to the obliteration of the dominated social actor, so that the relationship disappears with the extinction of one of its terms. But nonetheless, it can be viewed as social, because that violence can affect the survivors. Thus we can consider that the process of physical violence temporarily suspends the power relationship by creating a vacuum of power and then, as a result, restoring it. So it’s about “creative violence”. A kind of violence which is not just about overthrowing the former orders but about creating a new one. Remember that all the myths of the beginning of the world begin with violence, explosion, chaos, and so on.

Accordingly, there is a dialectical (logical) connection between the two main mechanisms of power formation։ violence (coercion) and consent (persuasion, discourse). All theories of power somehow start from this axiom. Max Weber defines social power as “the probability that one actor can carry out his own will within a social relationship despite resistance and regardless any reasons”[ii]. Weber relates power to politics and politics to the state, where a group of people use legitimate violence to control others, adding that violence is a primary means of maintaining order in this case. Within the same tradition, Jurgen Habermas considers the legitimation of control as the key of maintaining political order[iii]. Based on it, we can already outline two directions of power: «for» and “towards”[iv]. The starting point, therefore, is the perception, that the powers of social actors cannot be viewed apart from the social institutions they embody. They are directed against other social actors and the institutions they represent.

Of course, the reader may fairly ask a question about the universal solidarity and agreement, in case of a model of society where there is no competition and control of one another; can this view be considered the least an utopia? As Hannah Arendt mentions the power to do something is always the power to do something in opposition to another’s worldview, values, and embodied social institution[v].

So conflicts in societies never stop, they only take relativebreaks due to temporary agreements , which in turn are transformed into systems of control and embody the social actors who have achieved a favorable position in the struggle for power. That is, these breaks institutionalize the possession of one over the other [vi].

The processes of coordination of possession are multi-layered and multilateral. They operate at different facets and stages of social processes; economic, political, cultural, military, ecological and so on.

Let’s summarize the above; power is localized not in one particular area or institute, but distributed into all spheres of human activity[vii]. However, there are spheres where centralization of power is more noticeable and influential than elsewhere, for example political power over ecological or military over economic. These indicators are already linked to specific societies, their historical tradition and the dynamics of transformation. 

This much for the initial outline, we will then turn to post-revolutionary Armenia and the relationship of political power and media-power there.

[i] Castells M. Communication Power, Oxford, Oxford university, 2009.

[ii] Weber M. Economy and Society. Berkeley (CA): University of California Press, 1978, p. 53.

[iii] Хабермас Ю. Проблема легитимации позднего капитализма / пер. с нем. М.: Рзаксис, 2010.

[iv] Parsons T. On the Concept of Political Power // Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 1963.

[v] Арендт X. Vita active, или О деятельной жизни. СПб, Алетейя, 2000.

[vi] Манн M. Власть в XXI столетии / пер. с англ. М.: Изд. дом ВШЭ, 2014.

[vii] Фуко М. Надзирать и наказывать. Рождение тюрьмы / пер. с фр. M.: Ad Marginem, 1999.

  1. Castells M. Communication Power, Oxford, Oxford university, 2009.
  2.  Parsons T. On the Concept of Political Power // Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 1963.
  3. Weber M. Economy and Society. Berkeley (CA): University of California Press, 1978.
  4. Арендт X. Vita active, или О деятельной жизни. СПб, Алетейя, 2000.
  5. Манн M. Власть в XXI столетии / пер. с англ. М.: Изд. дом ВШЭ, 2014.
  6. Хабермас Ю. Проблема легитимации позднего капитализма / пер. с нем. М.: Рзаксис, 2010.
  7. Фуко М. Надзирать и наказывать. Рождение тюрьмы / пер. с фр. M.: Ad Marginem, 1999.


Author: Gor Madoyan © All rights are reserved.

Translator: Mariam Ohanyan.