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An accessible look into the three types of power operating in the family. Understanding the differences between covert and overt power prepares you for a deeper analysis of power at A2

An accessible look into the three types of power operating in the family. Understanding the differences between covert and overt power prepares you for a deeper analysis of power at A2

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  • 1. Power and in the family
    This presentation follows on nicely from the Conjugal Roles and the Family
  • 2. The Family
    Power in the family – covert or overt power?
  • 3. Three types of power
    There are three types of power sociologists look at –
    decision making – overt power
    agenda setting (non-decision making) – overt power
    controlling wishes and desires – overt power
  • 4. Symmetry of power in the home?
    Who makes the decisions in the family?
    Who makes the key decisions?
    Who makes the day-to-day decisions
    If decision making = power who holds the power?
  • 5. Decision making – overt power
    Decision making – this looks at who has the power in the family to make decisions. So if women stay at home do they have all the power?
    But it is important here to distinguish between major and minor decisions.
    From your own experiences who do you think would make the decisions on moving house; interior decorating; holidays; finances (loans mortgages); food shopping; buying a car; children’s clothes???
  • 6. Decision making – overt power
    When the actual decisions were looked at in detail what Edgell 1980 discovered was that only about half of the family decisions were taken jointly.
    Looking closely at the details of what the decisions a rather less symmetrical picture of family life emerges
    Husbands dominate the less frequent and more important decisions - moving house, family finances, and buying a car
    less ‘important’ decisions were left to the wife typically these decisions were about interior decorating, food management, and children’s clothes.
  • 7. Decision making – overt power
    Edgell(1980) interviewed 38 married couples and found women made the decisions in three areas
    Children’s clothes
    Spending in terms of food shopping
    Direct Line Financial Services (2000) found
    Only 53% of financial decisions were made jointly between couples
    Women only made 10% of financial decisions
    Men hold the purse strings in majority of households
  • 8. Agenda setting = covert power
    Agenda-setting (or non-decision making) – this is a little more complex to understand than decision making (previous slides)
    With setting the agenda, some ideas about family life have already been made for people, and so it’s difficult to start discussing them because the agenda has already been set (known as agenda setting).
  • 9. Agenda setting = covert power
    Setting of the agenda is important in family life as those people who gain from setting the agenda hold more power
    One example is where men’s jobs are largely seen as being more important that women’s.
    This transfers to the family as male paid work is seen as more important than their female partner’s mainly caring/domestic role.
    It is very difficult to challenge these entrenched assumptions – as the agenda is already set!
  • 10. Agenda setting = covert power
    Feminist writers argue this agenda setting means men gain a two-fold advantage as they aren’t tarnished by the negative aspects of being a carer/housewife while at the same time benefitting from women undertaking these roles
    Oakely argues that having set the agenda the wife is becomes dependent on the male breadwinner and women’s housework is seen as different a softer option from ‘real’ work – therefore an agenda is set - covertly
  • 11. Agenda setting = covert power
    Mansfield and Collard (1988) research found (
    Around time of marriage 1/3 of men changed career for better
    2/3 of women changed career for worse
    This illustrates how patriarchy operates covertly by setting the agenda with newly weds that men are more important then women
  • 12. Shaping desires – covert power MK2
    Shaping desires – the final type of power is the ability to shape the wishes and desires and desires of other people
    In regard to the family this occurs because women tend to accept their subordinate status even in the most subtle of ways.
    Shaping desires links well with understanding ideology
  • 13. Shaping desires – covert power MK2
    Shaping desires in the ability to get people to do things which go against their own interests
    It’s like a very clever form of covert power. With agenda setting if you looked long and hard enough you could see that someone has set the agenda
    But with shaping desires it’s a lot harder to see
  • 14. Shaping desires – covert power MK2
    It’s like when you want a new mobile phone
    Are YOU deciding you want a new mobile phone or has some other force chosen for you?
  • 15. Shaping desires – covert power MK2
    For example was it you or was it the advertising industry?
    In the same way do women choose to accept the triple-shift or dual-burden or is it somehow transmitted to women that such burden’s of child-care and work are ‘normal’ so they ‘desire’ it as part of normal family life?
  • 16. Conclusions
    Decision making is overt power because you can clearly see who is making the important decisions, men = patriarchal power operating overtly
    Whereas agenda setting illustrates how patriarchy operates covertly. For example with newly weds data an agenda has already been set that men are more important then women – patriarchal power operating covertly
    Finally shaping-desires is a more complex version of covert power. Within the family women may accept the triple-shift and dual burden of family life as a normal and ‘desirable’ aspect of family life. Because patriarchy continually & covertly transmits the idea of what a woman’s role is to the point it becomes a normal ideology
  • 17. Conclusions
    As with all ideologies you can see if you look hard enough the interested party which is promoting an idea as being good and ‘normal’, in this case men
    Can the family ever be symmetrical with when there’s covert power?