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Authority is the legitimate or socially approved use of power. It is the legitimate power which one person or a group holds over another. The element of legitimacy is vital to the notion of authority and is the main means by which authority is distinguished from the more general concept of power. Power can be exerted by the use of force or violence. Authority, by contrast, depends on the acceptance by subordinates of the right of those above them to give them orders or directives.[1][2]


Types of AuthoritiesEdit

The types of political authority were first defined by Max Weber in his essay "Politics as a Vocation" and his other writings in 1919-1920. In this essay he emphasized that the political authority that controlled the state can be composed of the following types of authority, or what is called in German as Herrschaft.[3]

Traditional Authority: Power legitimized by respect for long-established cultural patterns.

Charismatic Authority: Power legitimized by extraordinary personal abilities that inspire devotion and obedience.

Rational-Legal Authority: Also known as bureaucratic authority, is when power is legitimized by legally enacted rules and regulations such as governments.

Children and the three Authority AttributesEdit

The three attributes of authority are status, specialist skills or knowledge, and social position. These are particularly relevant to children when they regard their parents and teachers. Research has shown that children have a complex notion of what authority is. Children consider the type of command, the characteristics of the authority figure, and the social context when making authority conclusions (Laupa, 1991).

Although children regard these three types of authority attributes, they firstly assess the legitimacy of the authority figure in question using the nature of the commands they give. For example, a teacher that does not appear to have legitimate power from the child’s perspective (perhaps because she or he cannot control the class well) will not be obeyed. Regarding parenting, authoritative parents who are warm and high in behavioural control but low in psychological control are more likely to be seen as having legitimate authority by the child, and will believe themselves that they have a duty to obey them and internalise their values (Darling, Cumsille,& Martínez,2008).

Max Weber on authorityEdit

Max Weber, in his sociological and philosophical work, identified and distinguished three types of legitimate domination (Herrschaft in German, which generally means 'domination' or 'rule'), that have sometimes been rendered in English translation as types of authority, because domination is not seen as a political concept in the first place. Weber defined domination (authority) as the chance of commands being obeyed by a specifiable group of people. Legitimate authority is that which is recognized as legitimate and justified by both the ruler and the ruled. Legitimated rule results in what Weber called the monopoly over the use of coercive violence in a given territory.[4] In the modern world, such authority is typically delegated to a police and court system.

Weber divided legitimate authority into three types:

  • The first type discussed by Weber is Rational-legal authority. It is that form of authority which depends for its legitimacy on formal rules and established laws of the state, which are usually written down and are often very complex. The power of the rational legal authority is mentioned in the constitution. Modern societies depend on legal-rational authority. Government officials wield this type of authority in most countries of the world. Bureaucracies are the result of this type of authority.
  • The second type of authority is Traditional authority, which derives from long-established customs, habits and social structures. When power passes from one generation to another, then it is known as traditional authority. The right of hereditary monarchs to rule furnishes an obvious example. The Tudor dynasty in England and the ruling families of Mewar, in Rajasthan (India) are some examples of traditional authority.
  • The third form of authority is Charismatic authority. Here, the charisma of the individual or the leader plays an important role. Charismatic authority is that authority which is derived from "the gift of grace" or when the leader claims that his authority is derived from a "higher power" (e.g. God or natural law or rights) or "inspiration", that is superior to both the validity of traditional and rational-legal authority and followers accept this and are willing to follow this higher or inspired authority, in the place of the authority that they have hitherto been following. Examples in this regard can be NT Rama Rao, a matinee idol, who went on to become one of the most powerful Chief Ministers of Andhra Pradesh.

History has witnessed several social movements or revolutions, against a system of traditional or legal-rational authority, which are usually started by Charismatic authorities. Weber states that what distinguishes authority, from coercion, force and power on the one hand and leadership, persuasion and influence on the other hand, is legitimacy. Superiors, he states, feel that they have a right to issue commands; subordinates perceive an obligation to obey. Social scientists[who?] agree that authority is but one of several resources available to incumbents in formal positions.[citation needed] For example, a Head of State is dependent upon a similar nesting of authority. His legitimacy must be acknowledged, not just by citizens, but by those who control other valued resources: his immediate staff, his cabinet, military leaders and in the long run, the administration and political apparatus of the entire society.

Authority can be created either expressly or by implication; (2) public entities act publicly, using the same means to communicate the grant of authority to their agents that they use to communicate this to third parties; (3) apparent authority describes the situation when a principal has placed restrictions on an agent that are not known to a third party; (4) restrictions on government agents are accomplished in the open, through laws and regulations; (5) everyone, including contractors, are supposed to know the laws and regulations of our government; and thus (6) the concept of "apparent authority" is often inapt when dealing with the government, insofar as the only cognizable restrictions on the agent's authority are deemed known to third parties, shattering any appearance of authority. (14)

Recently the concept of authority has also been discussed as a guiding principle in human–machine interaction design.[5]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Anthony Giddens, Sociology. London: Polity Press, 1997:581
  2. ^ Max Weber in "Weber's Rationalism and Modern Society: New Translations for the 21st Century", translated and edited by Tony Waters and Dagmar Waters. pp. 137-138.
  3. ^ Tony Waters and Dagmar Waters, Weber's Rationalism and Modern Society, Palgrave Books 2015, pp. 137-138
  4. ^ Max Weber in Weber's Rationalism and Modern Society, translated and edited by Tony Waters and Dagmar Waters, Palgrave Books 2015, pp. 136
  5. ^ Flemisch, F., Heesen, M., Hesse, T., Kelsch, J., Schieben, A., & Beller, J. (2011). Towards a Dynamic Balance between Humans and Automation: Authority, Ability, Responsibility and Control in Cooperative Control Situations. Cognition, Technology and Work. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1007/s10111-011-0191-6

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