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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: January 2010

3 - Power and self-construal: How the self affects power processes


Power plays a role in all social contexts, and it plays a key role in organizations and work groups. More specifically, one might argue that the particulars of the social context largely determine the way that (lack of) power is experienced, the way that people think or feel about power (e.g., the positive or negative connotations of power), and the way in which power differentials manifest themselves (e.g., Tjosvold 1984, 1985; van Knippenberg et al. 2001). Because power derives its meaning from the social context in which it exists, we expect that factors that affect a person's relational or social orientation may greatly influence power processes. One of the central aspects of an individual's relationship with others is the individual's self-definition in the relationship. Therefore, this chapter focuses on the question if the extent to which a person sees himself or herself as a distinctive individual (i.e. differentiated from the other party) or more as psychologically connected to the other party (i.e. incorporating the other[s] into perceptions of the self) may affect power processes. We will use theoretical insights from the field of self and identity to present a framework to understand power processes in organizations. Building on prior research concerning the development of levels at which the self may be construed, and on the existing empirical work on the influence of (proxies and correlates of) self-conception on power and influence processes, we outline how theory development and research endeavors may benefit from employing a self-construal perspective to power.

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