Power in the Eyes of Estonian Youth
Most efforts to conceptualize power have approached the concept by either attempting to define the term or listing its bases and sources. The concept of power still engenders a lot of controversy, as scholarly works argue for and against various definitions, forms, and uses of power.
Although most people have an intuitive notion of what power is, until now, there has not until now been a single definition of power. This paper argues that instead of searching for the proper definition, one should consider changing the approach and treat power as social representation. Social representations are in the words of the originator of the theory, Serge Moscovici, socially created and communicated ideas, images, and knowledge shared by members of social groups. In the form of lay theories about the social world they constitute the ‘common consciousness’ of a group that intermediates and determines cognitive activity of its members. Two studies were conducted to describe the way power is represented in the eyes of Estonian youth. The research question leading the first study was: What does Estonian youth associate with power? The word association method was used to elicit respondents’ spontaneous and relatively non-reflected responses representing habitual patterns of thought as expressed in everyday thinking and communication. Domination (including misuse of power), powerful persons, authority and position, money, state and politics appeared to be the main categories that represent power for young people. Study 2 was conducted to examine the representation from a different angle using a rating scale. Four notions appear to function as core beliefs of power representation for Estonian youth: sanctions and misuse of power, authority, state and elite. Along the evaluative dimension, power representation is divided into two themes where authority (a mixture of expert and referent power) is evaluated positively, and another three components located on the negatively evaluated side of the representation. It is argued that the relationships between the core components of power representation reflect the underlying principles that guide people’s understanding of societal life. Classifying power into negative and positive parts reveals the deepest layers of our conceptual frameworks about society where power in real life (i.e. sanctions and misuse, state, and elite) is separated from authority or ideal power. A replication of study 2 was conducted two and half years later. The structure of the representation was not changed, but there were some changes in the way misuse of power, state, and elite were related to each other.