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Power and the Ability to Define the Situation

Alicia D. Cast
Social Psychology Quarterly
Vol. 66, No. 3 (Sep., 2003), pp. 185-201
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1519821
Page Count: 17
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Power and the Ability to Define the Situation
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Abstract

Symbolic interactionism suggests that one of the main tasks for individuals in interaction is the establishment of a definition of the situation. Individuals can control this definition in three main ways: by behaving in ways consistent with their identity, by influencing the behavior of others, and by resisting the identities that others, in turn, seek to impose on them. It is unlikely, however, that individuals are equally able to control meanings in the situation. Using a sample of newly married couples, this research examines how husbands' and wives' relative structural and relationship power affects their ability to control meanings in the situation. Results suggest that those with more power are more able to behave in ways consistent with their identity, more able to impose an identity on their spouse, and more able to resist the identity that the spouse, in turn, seeks to impose. Occupying an advantaged position in both structures confers even greater ability to control meanings in the situation.

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