The structure of powerlessness


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The structure of powerlessness
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Bruck, William Anthony, 1951-
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Thesis--University of Florida.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 196-199).
Statement of Responsibility:
by William A. Bruck.
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Introduction 9

Existential Analyses of Power 12

Traditional Studies of Powerlessness 19

Traditional Studies of Power 26

Conclusion 53


Introduction 55

Phenomenological Method: General 59

Data Collection 65

Protocol Analysis 70

Final Analysis 75

Factor Analytic Method 77


Introduction 84

Sample Data Analysis 88

Other Data and Results 101

General Data Analysis 111

General Results 127



Classification of Situations

Factor Analysis of all Subjects

Factor Analysis by Sex

Factor analysis by situation

Test Retest Reliability



Phenomenological Results

Factor Analytic Results

Combination of Results



(Today Form)






















Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



William A. Bruck

December, 1977

Chairperson: Harry Grater
Major Department: Psychology

The purpose of this investigation was to determine the struc-

ture of the experience of powerlessness: the phenomenological

description and the factor analytic structure of it. Two separate

studies were conducted. In the first, descriptions of the experience

were obtained from subjects (and the investigator himself) and

subjected to a phenomenological reduction and analysis. This

resulted in a fundamental description of the phenomenon (describing

the experience itself) and a fundamental structure (giving its

existential significance). This fundamental description indicated

that powerlessness occurs when a subject experiences something

in relation to which he/she is out of control; a reflective or

pre-reflective project of his/hers is thwarted. The subject

experiences him/herself as powerless as he/she finds no way to

regain control no viable alternative courses of action exist.

The subject responds emotionally to the situation, often with a

bursting out of anger or rage, or with the pulling inwards of


depression or despair. If the experience is intense, he/she may be

pulled out of the everyday world into what may be metaphorically

termed a "magical" world. In this, his/her everyday concerns and

goals lose importance in the face of the powerless event; he/she is

isolated from others who do not share this magical space, and time

seems to slow down and stop. Alternative modes of resolution are

described. The existential significance of this experience is

interpreted as personal dis-affirmation. In the second study a

questionnaire was developed on the basis of the phenomenological

results and administered to 194 undergraduate students at the

University of Florida, asking them questions about situations in

which they felt powerless. The results were factor analysed. This

resulted in a factor analytic structure consisting of a general

factor of powerlessness, plus factors of angry/mobility, dis-

affirmation, depression, isolation and stuckness. Results of the

two studies were compared, and ways in which each added to the other

were examined. The phenomenological study was interpreted as adding

depth to the understanding of powerlessness (increased depth of the

interviews with subjects, showing interrelations between factors);

whereas the factor analysis added breadth to the understanding of

powerlessness (estimates of reliability and validity, large subject

pool, discussion of different types of powerless experiencing).

Suggestions for further study were made.


The phenomena of power and powerlessness have intrigued me

for several years. In beginning to think about power and power-

lessness I note that I am interested in these concepts for several

reasons. First, in my beginning experience as a therapist I have

noticed that my clients almost universally experience themselves

as powerless in important aspects of their lives powerless to

gain friends, powerless to stop acting clumsy, powerless with their

parents, powerless to feel certain emotions, etc. I also notice that

in my own life, when I face situations that are problematic for me,

and I feel anxious, resentful or depressed, the experience of

powerlessness often accompanies these feelings. In reading many

theories of personality, I have noticed a theme of power, control

and responsibility being associated with mental health, as opposed

to helplessness, powerlessness and avoiding responsibility being

concommitant with mental illness. All of these encounters have

led me to wonder exactly what part power and powerlessness play

in shaping our lives, and particularly if mental health/illness can

fruitfully be conceptualized using these concepts. Thus, my initial

questions were: How does power/powerlessness fit into the understanding

of mental health and mental illness? What role do they play in my

own life? How can I achieve a better understanding of them which


will facilitate my helping clients and myself to understand and

better deal with difficult areas of our lives?

However, before I could begin asking these questions in a dis-

ciplined manner,I realized that I really do not understand what power

and powerlessness mean, what they are, and what exactly my experience

of them is. I feel this vagueness to be compounded as I read the

different writers who talk about power and powerlessness. They

define the terms differently, use them in different contexts (political,

personality theory, economic, etc.), and with different values

(power seen as a necessary evil, as The Good, as conflicting with

love, as grounding authentic love, etc.). Thus, my first question

in addressing these larger issues becomes: What exactly is power

and what is powerlessness? We certainly understand something by

the terms; we use them often and with facility. Yet, when we try

to specify more concretely what we mean by them, the terms elude us

to some degree.

It seems especially important to study the structure of these

phenomena when we consider that powerlessness is described as

accompanying many "neurotic styles" (Shapiro, 1965), often being

experienced with feelings of anxiety, depression and despair. In

fact, Rollo May states that "a common characteristic of all patients

is their powerlessness" (1972, p. 25). Further, powerlessness and

power have been considered central to an understanding of personality

by psychologists and philosophers such as Adler, Nietzsche, McClelland

and Seligman. Despite this, powerlessness has not received the

attention in the psychologist literature that many of the other

"negative emotions" have. The vast majority of the literature on

power and powerlessness deals almost exclusively with power, and

almost without exception the literature either pre-defines or oper-

ationally defines the phenomenon. Thus, it seems that power and

powerlessness are important potential issues for psychological

investigation, and that an investigation which begins to provide

a grounded structure of these phenomena would be in order.

It is difficult, however, to provide a structure of power.

As will be seen in Chapter II, power's status is somewhat

ambiguous. Some consider it a hypothetical construct, others a

feeling, others the result of an activity, others a need or trait,

and others an experience. Insofar as it is an experience, it should

be possible to provide a structure of it. Insofar as it is an

entity, a need, a trait, or a construct, the definition and

understanding of it will vary. Further, there seem to be different

ways of experiencing power. We "have" power; we "are" powerful;

we "experience" power. Are these identical or different?

Powerlessness, on the other hand, is a phenomenon which is

generally not considered in these several different ways. It is thus

much more easily researchable. People generally speak of being

or feeling powerless, and it appears to be a common experience one

most people can relate to. Thus, the scope of this study begins to

emerge. Its purpose is to provide an initial structure of the

experience of powerlessness, and secondly to discuss certain

implications of this structure for re-interpreting the literature

and for clinical applications. It is to be hoped that explicating

the structure of powerlessness will begin to throw light on the

role of power and powerlessness in human experience. However, it

should be realized from the outset that one cannot assume that

the understanding of powerlessness will automatically provide an

understanding of power. While for our purposes we can conceptualize

power and powerlessness as endpoints of a bipolar continuum, they

may not fit so neatly into our experience of them.

Having defined our question and suggested an initial orientation

leading to the asking of it, it remains to provide a methodology

which is appropriate to answer it. The methodology should hope-

fully not do violence to the question itself stretch the question

to fit the methodology and should provide the sort of answer that

the question asks. There are two methodologies, coming from widely

different traditions, which attempt to find the structure of phenomena.

From the natural scientific tradition of experimental psychology,

there is factor analysis. This type of analysis is very powerful for

grouping data into statistically meaningful clusters; it can take

"bits" of experiences and form them into a structural whole.

Alternatively, from the human science tradition of phenomenological

psychology, there is the phenomenological reduction and investigation.

This type of analysis attempts to find the fundamental description (the

way our experience is put together) and the fundamental structure

(the existential significance) of the experience in question.

Traditionally, these methodologies have stood in opposition

to one another. They often ask different types of questions

(e.g., quantitative versus qualitative) in different ways (e.g.,

experiment versus description) and with widely differing concerns

(e.g., validity and reliability versus value, fecundity and meta-

phor). The type of question this dissertation asks provides a

somewhat unique opportunity of wedding these two different approaches

and methodologies. The phenomenological approach (as explicated, for

instance, by Giorgi, 1970) takes accounts of subjects' experiences

and analyzes them to arrive at a fundamental description and

structure of the phenomenon in question. The factor analysis

takes items and puts them into a structure; where these items come

from is undefined. This, then, provides an opportunity for melding

the two approaches and methods. We may take accounts of experiences

from subjects and first arrive at a phenomenological description and

structure of powerlessness. Then we can use these results as the

source of items for a factor analytic study, going back again to

subjects and getting ratings on items which were obtained from the

first investigation. The result, then, is two structures of power-

lessness, the phenomenological and the factor analytic. The latter

is based partially on the results of the former. The power of both

methodologies is thus channeled into the understanding of the

phenomenon. Then, the two structures can be compared to see simi-

larities, differences, possible reasons for these, and different

utilities they might have.


Thus, the dissertation will be structured as follows: First,

in this chapter, the question to be answered is specified, and

certain conventions used in the discussions are noted. Chapter II

reviews research and literature on the phenomena of power and

powerlessness. Following this, Chapter III discusses the phenom-

enological method for psychological research, and specifies the

factor analytic method used in the study. Chapter IV presents

the phenomenological analyses and results, while Chapter V gives

the factor analytic results. Finally, Chapter VI discusses the

conclusions, giving interpretations of each set of results, comparing

and combining the two findings, and discussing possible applications.

Two conventions which are employed throughout this paper may

be stated at the outset. The term phenomenologicall" has now been

used several times and is used extensively throughout the paper.

"Phenomenological psychology," and phenomenologicall research

methodology" are not technically correct. Phenomenological psych-

ology, technically, refers to the psychology emanating from the

philosophy of Edmund Husserl, and/or other purely phenomenological

philosophers. The psychology and research spoken of in this paper

are partially grounded in the thought of Husserl, but are more

closely identified with the thought of Martin Heidegger and Maurice

Merleau-Ponty. Their thinking is properly called existential-phenom-

enological, and the phenomenological psychology referred to here is

more exactly existential-phenomenological psychology.

Paul Colaizzi notes, however, that Husserlian psychology

is not as vital a force presently as it once was, and he states

that purely phenomenological psychology has reached a dead end

(1973, p. 42). While not wanting to make as strong a statement

as this, I would observe that the mainstream of works in this

field, as evidenced by the Journal of Phenomenological Psychology,

the Review of Existential Psychiatry and Psychology, and the

publications of the Northwestern and Duquesne University presses

seem to lean very heavily towards a psychology which is not purely

Husserlian. Thus, following Colaizzi's convention, in this paper

I shall refer to existential-phenomenological psychology as "phenom-

enological psychology," and reserve the term "Husserlian psychology"

for the more purely phenomenological psychology.

A second convention refers to the distinction between phenomen-

ological, experimental-experiential and more traditional experimental

research paradigms. The phenomenological paradigm (as I will use the

term) refers to research which is grounded by existential-phenomenological

philosophy and especially as written of by men such as Ernst Keen,

Amedeo Giorgi and Paul Colaizzi. Experimental-experiential research

will refer to research which is research on experience (e.g., the

experience of anger), but which utilizes an experimental method

either partially or totally, and frequently is concerned with

measuring experience and/or finding lawful relationships between

experiences (see in this regard Barrell & Barrell, 1975).

The third form of research I will refer to (interchangeably)

as traditional, experimental or natural science psychology/research.


These terms refer to psychology and research methodologies which

are grounded in natural scientific approaches, which are primarily

quantitative, and most often involve a hypothesis to be tested -

defining dependent and independent variables and finding causal

or correlative relationships between them. This is the "experimental

method," and I use the three separate terms for readability.



Before commencing our investigation into the structure of

powerlessness, it seems reasonable to examine what other work -

both theoretical and research has been done on powerlessness.

This examination can provide a context for the present research -

a ground of previous thought and research findings upon which this

investigation can build. In order to establish this context, it is

necessary for several reasons to go beyond examining the concept of

powerlessness. First, the concept of powerlessness has not been

extensively researched or written about (with notable exceptions

such as Seligman, 1975, Tillich, 1954, and May, 1972). Secondly,

among many writers who speak of powerlessness, it is seen as the

other end of a bi-polar continuum with power. Thus, to examine

these writers' views of powerlessness, it would be necessary to

examine their thinking about power. (It is not being implied that

powerlessness is not the other end of such a continuum, but merely

that judgement on this should be reserved in order to look more

freely at the experience of powerlessness per se.) Thirdly, as one

secondary goal of this study is to provide a basis for later questions

concerning power and powerlessness, a literature review including

power is desirable.

Thus, the goals of this chapter include: the examination of

research and theories (psychological and philosophical) of the nature

of power and powerlessness; a review of both the definitions of

these terms and the research implications of understanding them;

and an investigation of the differing contexts from within which

these two concepts are understood and studied. In reading on the

psychology and philosophy of power, for instance, one soon finds

certain authors seeing power as inherently corrupting man, while

others see it as necessary for healthy functioning. Some see it

as an activity, others as a need, others yet as intention. Hope-

fully, this review can begin to clarify the differing perspectives

and contexts from which these viewpoints spring. Further, it sets

the stage for a structure of powerlessness from which these present

definitions and contexts can be understood as differing perspectives

of the same central phenomenon.

It would be very difficult (and most probably tedious reading)

to provide a comprehensive literature review of power and powerless-

ness. Historical figures concerned with power include Plato, Machia-

velli, Erasmus and Hobbes (Winter, 1973, p. 2), and an all-inclusive

review would constitute a rather large tome in itself. Thus, I have

chosen to review all the literature on powerlessness (as it is not

extensive), selected psychological theorists of power, and certain of

the more current psychological, sociological, and/or philosophical

thought on power.

Organizing such a literature review poses certain initial problems.

The literature is divided into literature on power, literature on power-

lessness, and literature on power which has implications for powerless-

ness. In each of these categories, there are philosophical (theoretical)

writings, and psychological (research) writings. Further, each of

the philosophical and psychological categories can be broken down

into the existential or phenomenological writings, on the one hand,

and the experimental (psychological) or analytic/empirical (philo-

sophical) writings on the other. Finally, the literature on power

approaches the concept from the perspectives of power as a need,

political, social or economic power, power as a personality con-

struct, etc. Thus, there is a possibility of organizing the review

either by author (which often would imply a crossing of these themes)

or by theme/category (in which case the reader might lose the con-

tinuity of a given author's thought).

To best achieve the purposes of this literature review to

examine the definitions of powerlessness and the different perspec-

tives on it, the literature review will be organized as follows:

First, an examination of the existential writings on power and power-

lessness are presented. Second, experimental psychology writings on

powerlessness are reviewed. Finally, traditional philosophical and

psychological writings on power are investigated. These writings are

further broken down into: the philosophy of power, the psychology of

power, power as a personality construct, the need-power, and social,

political and economic power.

Existential Analyses of Power

The primary existentially oriented philosopher of power is, of

course, Friedrich Nietzsche. In addition to his analyses, other

existential thinkers such as Rollo May and Paul Tillich have described

power and its role in human life. Themes of power and powerlessness

are also apparent in the writings of Binswanger and Heidegger in a

less developed fashion; these latter will not be dealt with here.


Nietzsche's analysis of power the "will to power" is

apparent in his Thus Spoke Zarathustra. It is more completely

developed in the compilation of notes which constitutes his book

The Will to Power. The Will to Power is subtitled, Attempt at a

Revaluation of Values. This portrays both Nietzsche's project and

his understanding of the will to power. Basically, the will to

power is an existential statement of "I choose" in the face of

external sources of value (e.g., Christianity) which are breaking

down in society at large (nihilism). Specifically, Nietzsche analyzes

the nihilism of Western man as a breakdown in the values that we have

had for at least 2,000 years. Some of these values were the Christian

ones. In mass society, as Nietzsche interprets it, man throws himself

over to an external source of values the priest, the church, the

values that he is taught he must or should accept. It is these

values that are breaking down with the loss of belief in Christianity

in general in the nineteenth (and twentieth) centuries. As well, the

advent of natural sciences, the current political and economic systems

are sources for the breakdown of traditionally held values. What

remains is a nihilistic state in which man drifts without any sense

of rootedness.

Themes of decadence, weakness, exhaustion and the herd mentality

enter here. Exhaustion is a loss of the power to resist the imposition

of values upon the individual. This exhaustion is brought about in

part by decadence. Nietzsche specifies particular types of decadence

prevelent today:

Believing one chooses remedies, one chooses in fact that
which hastens exhaustion; Christianity is an example .
one loses one's power of resistance against stimuli
(e.g., de-personalization, coming to be at the mercy of
accidents). One confuses cause and effect: one
fails to understand decadence as a physiological condition
and mistakes its consequences for the real cause of the
indisposition; example: all of religious morality. .
One longs for a condition in which one no longer suffers;
life is actually experienced as the ground of ills.
(1967, p. 27)

Within this context of nihilism and decadence, the "Ubermensch"

or "Superman" is able to assert his will, to choose the values to

which he aspires and disregard societal constraints. This will to

power is interpreted by Nietzsche as a will to knowledge, as an

openness to life, and in terms of the society and the individual.

Paul Tillich says of Nietzsche that:

The will to power means neither will nor power, if taken
in the ordinary sense of the words. He does not speak
of the psychological function called will, although the
will to power may become manifest in conscious acts of
man, e.g., in the self-control exercised by the commanding
will. But basically the will to power in Nietzsche is,

as it was in Schopenhauer, a designation of the dynamic
self-affirmation of life [it is] the drive of
everything living to realize itself with increasing inten-
sity and extensity. The will to power is not the will of
men to attain power over men, but it is the self-affirmation
of life in its self-transcending dynamics, overcoming
internal and external resistance. (1954, pp. 36-37)

May agrees, stating that Nietzsche meant "neither 'will' nor 'power'

in the competitive sense of the modern day, but rather self-realization

and self-actualization" (1972, p. 20). I am not convinced that

Nietzsche is univocally stating that the will to power is not the

attempt to attain power over other men; it seems that (at least for

me) there are many rather ambiguous strains within The Will to

Power. However, this should not take away from the point which

Nietzsche makes about power, which sees it in terms of personal

choice and self-affirmation.


Whereas Nietzsche's primary concern is for a revaluation of

values, Paul Tillich, in Love, Power and Justice (1954) is primarily

concerned with ontology with "describing the texture of being as

being" (p. 35). He asks, "Can one say anything more elaborate of

being than to elaborate the categories and polarities which consti-

tute its texture" (p. 35)? His answer is both yes and no. No, being

can not be defined it is the most fundamental term inherent in any

definition, and no definition can go beneath it. However, he also

answers yes in the sense that being can be pointed to metaphorically.

Power is the metaphor which Tillich uses to fundamentally describe

being: "Being is the power of being over non-being" (p. 37).

Tillich states that all beings affirm their being over against

their non-being. He says, "This self affirmation of a being in spite

of non-being is the expression of the power of being. Power is

the possibility of self-affirmation in spite of internal and external

negation" (p. 40). The power of being becomes manifest in the pro-

cess of actualizing this power specifically in the encounter with

other beings with similar self-affirmational tendencies. In this
c 6
encounter on may, for instance, draw another's power in and assimi-

late it, throw off another's attempt to assimilate one's own power,

or surrender to the power of being of the other (p. 42).

Power, for Tillich, is intimately related to other phenomena,

such as force and compulsion. Power "uses and abuses compulsion to

overcome the threat of non-being. It uses and abuses force to

actualize itself" (p. 47). Although it seemingly contradicts the

tie between power and force, Tillich also understands power as being

in unity with love. Love, seen as the reunion of the separated, is

manifested through the power of being in the interaction of two beings.

Tillich sums up his analysis of power as follows:

Power of the self is its self centerdness. Self control
is the preservation of this centerdness against disrup-
tive tendencies, coming from the elements which constitute
the center. Power over oneself is the power of the
self over the forces which constitute it and each of which
tries to determine it. (p. 52)

This power is an independent power but its power
is the power of a stabilized balance of the elements
which are centered in it. (p. 53)


In his book, Power and Innocence, Rollo May offers incisive

analyses of the nature of both power and powerlessness. His basic

project (like Nietzsche's) is contained in the subtitle of his book:

A search for the Sources of Violence. Whereas Nietzsche is primarily

a philosopher, and Tillich a theologian, May is a psychologist with

psychological concerns. In this book, he attempts to analyze the

fundamental nature of power and powerlessness in an attempt to

understand the causes of violence in society. He states that "the

state of powerlessness, which leads to apathy and which can be pro-

duced by [societal] plans for the uprooting of aggression,

is the source of violence. .. Violence arises not of superfluity

of power but out of powerlessness" (p. 23).

The progression of powerlessness to violence proceeds along

five stages, corresponding to what May terms five "levels of power."

The first is the power to be: May asserts that even an infant needs

to be to cry, to live, to get a response to his actions from his

environment. The second level is the need for self-affirmation.

This is the cry for recognition, the quest for self-esteem, which is

especially significant for the human organism, as May notes, as it is

gifted with self-consciousness. When this self-affirmation meets

resistance, we "make greater effort, we give power to our stance,

making clear what we are and what we believe; we state it now against

opposition" (p. 41). This is the third phase, or self-assertion.

If this third phase is frustrated, the person moves into the fourth

phase of power aggression. Aggression is "moving into the positions

of power or prestige or the territory of another and taking possession

of some of it for one's self" (p. 42). Finally, when all aggression

proves ineffective, there is "the ultimate explosion known as

'violence'" (p.43). This violence is largely physical because all

other alternatives have been blocked off.

Thus, powerlessness is linked for May with self-affirmation,

with being "okay" in some sense, although the grounds of this link

are not clear. May continues with an analysis of power. Power is

"the ability to cause or prevent change" (p. 99), and has two forms,

latent power (the possibility) or actuality. As such, May agrees

with Nietzsche that power is an expression of the life process;

however, he notes that there is a danger of identifying power with

the life process which may leave out other processes as self-consciousness,

curiosity and desire (p. 100). There are five types of power which

May analyzes: Exploitive power (one uses another solely and nakedly

for his own ends); manipulative power (power over another, but

not as nakedly applied); competitive power (power against the other);

nutrient power (power for the other e.g., a mother's love); and

integrative power (power with the other where "my power abets

yours"). In the higher states, power and love merge to some degree.

May sees a distinction between the terms (e.g., "power" includes

the lower level powers which have little to do with love), however,

he states that at the higher levels of power, the relationship is

characterized by love.

These three existential analyses of power and powerlessness

share many common elements. Each sees power as in some sense a

"self affirmation," a dynamic affirmation of the self in its selfhood

and as a life process. As such, they see power as something which

is "good," which is to be sought after rather than rejected. The

opposite of this idea would be that of Charles Reich, when he states

that "It's not the misuse of power that is an evil; the very existence

of power is an evil" (quoted in May, 1972, p. 56). The three authors

would agree that the non-existence of power would be an impossibility,

as power is inherently bound up in the dynamic process of human life

living itself.

It is interesting to note that this similar theme is seen in

spite of the three dissimilar orientations of the writers (theology,

philosophy and psychology) with their three different purposes in

writing about power (inquiring into ontology, values and social

violence). Further, Tillich and May also see a strong connection

between power and love.

The one caveat that should be noted in the above analyses is

their "fait accompli" nature. In each case, the nature and significance

of power was presented with no supporting analysis, as a given fact.

In each case, the structures of power the structure relating power

to love, to self-affirmation, to life's dynamic self expression -

remain unexplicated. In presenting a phenomenology of powerlessness,

similarities and dissimilarities with these previous existential

analyses can be noted, along with the grounding phenomenological

analysis which supports the essence of powerlessness.

Traditional Studies of Powerlessness

There has been no extensive research or theorizing about the

concept of powerlessness. What there is, for the most part, is

contained explicitly or implicitly in the words of authors primarily

interested in power, who see powerlessness as its compliment. In the

next section on power, these themes will be explicated to some degree.

There are two primary thrusts which explore concepts which seem

at least initially very related to powerlessness. These are, first,

the work on learned helplessness by Martin Seligman and his colleagues

at the University of Pennsylvania, and second, work by various sociol-

ogists on the concept of alienation understood as powerlessness.

Learned Helplessness

In his (1975) book, Helplessness (On Depression, Development

and Death), Seligman explicates the idea of helplessness from within

a comparative, experimental analysis of behavior framework. He

arrives at a theory of helplessness and its effects on learning,

emotionality and motivation which he applies both to lower order

animals and human beings in a very interesting and provocative way.

According to Seligman, "A person or animal is helpless with respect

to some outcome when the outcome occurs independently of all his

voluntary responses" (p. 17). Voluntary responses are only those

responses which can be modified by reward and punishment (p. 11);

response-outcome independence occurs when the probability of a given

outcome is identical whether or not a response occurs (p. 16).

Thus, Seligman has rather elegantly defined helplessness in opera-

tional terms. This "learned helplessness" seems to be a close and

related phenomenon to that of powerlessness, as one might initially

understand it. Thus, reviewing the work on learned helplessness

may cast some additional light on our investigation of powerlessness.

Seligman summarizes his experiments on helplessness as follows:

"Laboratory experiments on helplessness produce three deficits:

They undermine the motivation to respond, they retard the ability

to learn that responding works and they result in emotional distur-

bances, primarily depression and anxiety" (p. 6). The typical

experiment to which Seligman refers occurs when an animal (say a

dog) is subjected to a series of shocks which (from his point of

view) are uncontrollable, while he is under restraint. These shocks

are not preceded by any signal and are delivered on a random

time sequence. Later, these dogs (and control animals) are given

a signalled escape-avoidance task: They are placed in a shuttle box

and after the onset of a signal, they are required to jump a barrier

to terminate the shock. One third of shocked animals learn this

task efficiently. The other two-thirds exhibit what Seligman

terms a "striking giving-up sequence," involving remaining motionless,

huddling up and whining (pp. 22-25).

Seligman goes into detail on his three deficits. He states that

with both rats and college sophomores (two very common subject pools

for psychologists) "uncontrollable events undermine the motivation to

initiate voluntary responses that control other events" (p. 37). This

is demonstrated in the experimental paradigm cited above: The dogs

no longer initiate voluntary response, but rather huddle and freeze

at shock onset. Second, helplessness "disrupts the ability to learn"

(p. 37). Without detailing the paradigm used to differentiate

response initiation from learning, Seligman also shows that it takes

"helpless" animals longer to learn new tasks than naive animals.

Seligman states that the two formal theories of the relationship

between learned helplessness and depression and anxiety are as


I suggest that what produces self-esteem and a sense of
competence, and protects against depression, is not only
the absolute quality of experience, but the perception
that one's own actions controlled the experience. To
the degree that uncontrollable events occur, either
traumatic or positive, depression will be pre-disposed
and ego strength undermined. To the degree that control-
lable events occur, a sense of mastery and resistance to
depression will result. (p. 99)

When aversive events are un-predictable, no safety signal
exists and anxiety ensues. Monitoring of anxiety during
predictable and unpredictable shock confirms the safety
signal hypothesis. ... Animals and men choose predictable
over unpredictable shock, as expected from the safety-
signal hypothesis. While controllable events are pre-
dictable by the feedback from the response that controls
them, controllability may have anxiety-reducing conse-
quences in addition to this predictability perceived
potential control and nonveridical control of aversive
events also relieve anxiety. (p. 132)

Seligman also analyzes methods for curing learned helplessness

(and also by implication directions for the relief of depression and

anxiety). One of these methods involves forcing a response from

the animal. In the paradigm above, it would imply forcing the dog

over the barrier repeatedly until he learns that his responses do

control the event outcomes. He also theorizes about possible

developmental patterns that result in helplessness as a "personality

trait." These involve parenting behaviors (as one might expect)

which leave the child uncertain about his own actions and the con-

sequences they have again setting up the response-outcome unpre-

dictability which characterizes helplessness. In the worst situations,

the belief that one can do nothing to influence the event outcomes

can produce death, in both animals and men. Seligman has done work

with rats placed in a vat to swim until they die. Wild rats which

have been held in the experimenter's hand repeatedly (i.e., made

helpless) will drown within minutes, while other control rats will

swim for upwards of 30 hours in the vat before succumbing. While

similar work for ethical reasons is not possible with college sopho-

mores, Seligman refers to different accounts by prison camp doctors

of deaths which seem to have psychological origins.

Seligman summarizing this theory of helplessness as follows:

The expectation that an outcome is independent of responding
(1) reduces the motivation to control the outcome; (2)
interferes with learning that responding controls the
outcome; and, if the outcome is traumatic, (3) produces
fear for as long as the subject is uncertain of the
uncontrollability of the outcome, and then produces
depression. (p. 56)

The theory is very provocative and suggests much further research

and possible clinical application. While Seligman is primarily a

comparative psychologist, in his book he takes care to relate each

issue to human beings, and where possible, he provides research.

One possible area in which the thoery raises questions is precisely

in the area of its greatest strength the operational (external)

definition of helplessness. Seen externally, we are helpless with

respect to many phenomena the sun rising, heat coming on and off

in buildings in which we work, etc. We do not generalize helpless

symptomatology from these situations to others, as Seligman suggests

helplessness generalizes. Perhaps the reason has to do with the

intentional state of the person we have no desire to control

the sun rise, nor any expectation that we should have such a desire.

However, to get into intention vitiates exactly the area of strength

from which Seligman's theory arises the operational, external

definition of the phenomenon.


In his (1959) article, "On the meaning of alienation," Melvin

Seeman provides a comprehensive review of the different ways that

the term alienation has been used in the field of sociology. He

distinguishes five different understandings of the term: alienation

as meaninglessness; alienation as normlessness; alienation as self-

estrangement; alienation as isolation; and alienation of powerless-

ness. The last of these is of primary concern for us in this review;

understanding that alienation seen as powerlessness is taken in this

sense from the social-psychological point of view.

Alienation understood as powerlessness is conceived as "the

expectancy of probability held by the individual that his own behavior

cannot determine the occurrence of the outcomes, or reinforcement, he

seeks" (p. 784). The applicability of the concept is limited to


"expectancies that have to do with the individual's sense of influence

over the socio-political system" (p. 785). Historically, Seeman

notes that this varient of alienation originated in the "Marxian

view of the worker's condition in capitalist society: the worker

is alienated to the extent that the prerogative and means of decision

are expropriated by the ruling entrepreneurs" (p. 784). The economic

emphasis of Marx was extended by Weber's work. He saw the worker's

separation from the means of production as only one special case

in a general trend. Seeman quotes, "The modern soldier is equally

'separated' from the means of violence; the scientist from the means

of enquiry, and the civil servant from the means of administration"

(p. 794). Of current sociological thinkers, Seeman notes that

C. Wright Mills and J. Gouldner conceive of alienation in this

sense of powerlessness.

This view of powerlessness understands it as a function of

the individual's expectancy. This is to be distinguished from the

objective nature of the situation, as well as the individual's

moral value judgement of the situation. Alienation interpreted as

powerlessness is also to be distinguished, according to Seeman,

from more strictly psychological notions; specifically, the internal

versus external control of reinforcements developed by Rotter. Seeman

says, "The congruence in these formulations leaves the way open for the

development of a closer bond between two languages of analysis that

of learning theory and that of alienation that have long histories

in psychology and sociology. But the conguence also poses a problem -

the problem of recognizing that these two constructs, though intimately

related, are not generally used to understand the same things"

(p. 785).

The internal/external control of Rotter will be discussed in

more depth in the next section. For now, we can learn that in ad-

dition to the psychological and philosophical concerns with power

and powerlessness, there is also at least one current of thought

within the discipline of sociology which also attempts to under-

stand powerlessness. It sees powerlessness, again, as intimately

involved with the individual's inability to determine the occurrence

of outcomes which he seeks this time, specifically, outcomes in the

socio-political-economic realm.

Traditional Studies of Power

The phenomenon of power has been of interest to many philosophers

and psychologists, coming from very different traditions. In line

with our attempt to delineate the different viewpoints from which

power is studied, this section will again separate theorists and

researchers of power by the context within which they work. These

will include Russell's philosophy of power, the psychology of power,

power as a personality construct, the need-Power, and power in

politics and economics.

Russell's Philosophy of Power

Bertrand Russell's (1938) book, Power, A New Social Analysis,

is known and referred toby most of the other authors reviewed in

this chapter, be they philosophers, psychologists, sociologists,

etc. His central thesis is that power is the fundamental conception

in social sciences, holding the equivalent place to energy in physics

(p. 10). He supports this view with an extensive and in depth analysis

of the phenomenon of power.

Russell begins grounding his perspective on power with his view

of man. Animals, Russell states, have needs which are then satisfied.

For instance, they are hungry, then they eat, become satiated, and

rest. Unlike animals, men have certain "infinite desires," remaining

active even when these needs are met. Russell says, "Imagination is


the goad that forces human beings into restless exertion after their

primary needs have been satisfied." The desires for power and glory

are the two chief infinite desires. These are not identical, although

many actions manifest both (and thus for many practical purposes, they

may be considered equivalent).

Power is defined by Russell as the production of intended

effects (p. 35). It has many different sub-divisions: There is

new power versus traditional power; power over things versus power

over humans; and individual versus organizational power. Additionally,

power takes many forms wealth, arms, influence many of which are

interchangeable (pp. 10-11). People experience a love of, or need

for, power. Russell defines this as follows: "Love of power, in its

widest sense, is the desire to be able to produce intended effects

upon the outer world, whether human or non-human. ." (p. 274).

This love of power is unevenly distributed among people as a motive,

and it is tempered by other motives which people have (p. 15). There

are two forms of this power impulse, the explicit and implicit. The

explicit form of the power impulse is that of the leader he acquires

the ability to do what he likes, produce the effect he wishes. The

other form is that of the follower the implicit form. "When men

willingly follow a leader, they do so with a view to the acquisition

of power by the group which he commands, and they feel that his

triumphs are theirs" (p. 15). These two forms of power are seen

as matters of a man's character by Russell: It is some men's charac-

ter to command, and others' to obey (p. 16). He also states that while

the explicit impulse to power has its roots in the primary need for

power and glory, the impulse to submission, "which is just as real

and just as common as the impulse to command, has its roots in fear"

(p. 18).

Having expressed his initial conception of power, Russell goes

on to examine certain types of power in detail: Priestly power;

kingly power; naked power; revolutionary power; economic power; etc.

He then examines the social implications of power. These implications

stem from, first, the definition of power as the production of one's

own intended effects, and second, the distinction between traditional

and new power. Power, if used without regard for the other person,

does not take into account his interests and needs, and thus there

is a need for tradition and custom to safeguard against the mis-use

of power. Russell states:

[Naked power] involves no aquiescience on the part of the
subject. If human life is to be, for the mass of
mankind, anything better than a dull misery punctuated
with moments of sharp horror, there must be as little
naked power as possible. The exercise of power, if it
is to be something better than the infliction of wanton
torture, must be hedged round by safeguards of law and
custom. (pp. 106-107)

Thus Russell states the role of power in society. It is a force

which can be used for good or evil. In its naked form the power of

an individual to do what he lists without any law or custom to bind

him the possibility of the mere "infliction of wanton torture"

seems very present for Russell. Thus, the mass of mankind's opinion

underlies other powers, but physical force of its threat underlies

opinions (p. 140).

Russell carries this into an ethical analysis. "Power may be

an end, but in the most sustaining systems it has been the means."


That is, again, the raw exercise of power does not meet the needs of

other beings, and thus no viable system is sustained by it. "The love

of power, if beneficent, must be a means, and therefore this ultimate

purpose must be beneficent" (p. 276). "The ultimate aim of those

who have power should be to promote social cooperation .

in the whole human race" (p. 283).

There is thus a contradiction between Russell's view of power and

those of, say, Nietzsche or Tillich. In fact, Russell states, "The

Ubermensch can harm the herd for his own self development. .. Power

philosophers are insane because they neglect the fact that other

beings are and need consideration" (pp. 269-270). In Russell's view

the philosophies of, for instance, Nietzsche or Fichte, lead to the

states of war and/or police states, and conflicts of will are

settled by violence. Thus, this view (in direct opposition to that

of Tillich) would state that it is unrestrained power (rather than

its lack) which leads to violence.

Perhaps this conflict goes further than the nature of power into

the nature of man which each of these philosophers pre-supposes.

For Russell, the chief obstacle in the way of social cooperation is

the desire for superiority held by many who have a high love of

power (pp. 283-284). Man is thus seen as a being who, if unrestrained

and able to impose his will upon others, would do so against their


Psychology of Power

The primary theorist of the psychology of power is, of course,

Alfred Adler. Adler can be considered a "power psychologist" since

for him power is the essential and primary construct. In addition to

the work of Adler, this section reviews the psychology of power of

Ronald Sampson, a neo-Freudian thinker.

Where for Freud, the broadly defined sexual (libinal) urge was

the motivator for human behavior, for Adler this is translated as a

drive for power. He states, "The goal of superiority, of power, of

the conquest of others, is the goal which directs the activity of

most human beings" (1927, p. 33). Power is thus associated with

superiority, with conquest, with the imposition of one's will over

against the countervailing will of the other. Adler refers to it

as "the poison of the craving for power," seeing it as something

to be avoided rather than embraced, as evil rather than good. In

this, Russell's and Adler's analyses agree.

This love, this craving for power is not something innate in

the organism, according to Adler. He states:

Modern psychology has shown us that the traits of craving
for power, ambition and striving for power over others,
with their numerous ugly concomitants, are not innate
and unalterable. Rather, they are inoculated into the
child at an early age; the child receives them involun-
tarily from an atmosphere saturated by the titillation
of power. In our blood is still the desire for the intox-
ication with power, and our souls are playthings of the
craving for power. (1966, p. 170)

How does this craving for power develop in the child? In addition

to the "titillating atmosphere" of power, there exists an inherent

inferiority of the child with respect to his parents. Adler says

that the child realizes early that others satisfy their urges more

completely than he and are thus better prepared to live. "His

instincts are baffled in their fulfillment by obstacles whose con-

quest gives him pain" (1927, p. 39).

A desire to grow, to become as strong or stronger than
all others, arises in his soul. To dominate those who
are gathered about him becomes his chief purpose in
life. (1927, pp. 39-40)

It is the feeling of inferiority, inadequacy, insecurity,
which determines the goal of an individual's existence.
The tendency to push into the limelight, to compel the
attention of parents, makes itself felt in the first
days of life. Here are found the first indications
of the awakening desire for recognition developing it-
self under the concomitant influence of the sense of
inferiority, with its purpose of attainment of a goal
in which the individual is seemingly superior to his
environment. (1927, p. 67)

The child has two strategies open to him. He may imitate his

elders in their strengths, and so attain them, or he may continue

in his weakness placing demands upon them to take care of him.

Adler's view of the social consequences of this striving for power

are similar to those of Russell. He states:

The waves of the power striving of society break into the
comfort of the nursery. The parent's desires to dominate,
servant arrangements in the house, privileges accorded to
the infant, irresistibly drive the mind of the child toward
the achievement of power and predominance, and allow only
this position to appear tempting. Not until somewhat later
do social feelings enter his soul, usually to fall under
the domination of the already developed desire for power. .
The result of individual and social psychological inquiry
is therefore: the striving for power is a disastrous delusion
and poisons man's living together. Whoever desires the
human community must renounce the striving for power over
others. (1966, p. 169)

Again, we can get an impression of Adler's view of man in the

unrestrained condition. For Adler, the infant will have a craving for

power and superiority whether or not his needs are met. If so, he will

see that only by his superiority can he get his needs met. If not, he


can see that he must attain this superiority in order to get what he

wants. The social context of which Adler writes seems to be a

somewhat oppressively upper class one: the houses have servants;

other people are not eating (or eating as well), and thus one has

delicacies. In this context, the satisfaction of ones desires goes

against community interests as I get more of what I want or need,

someone else goes without. The desires are ones for food, for

material possessions, for control over the activities of other


Sampson, like Adler, sees power as a central concept in the

understanding of human motivation and behavior. Also similarly to

Adler, Sampson has a distrust of power, seeing it as antithetical

to love. He says, "Man may seek to order his life and his relationships

with others on the basis of love or on the basis of power. The two

forces are antithetical, but are directly related to one another.

To the extent we develop our capacity for power we weaken our

capacity for love, and conversely" (1965, p. 8).

Sampson sees two possibilities for the ubiquitous presence of

power in human interrelations. The first is that "we are so bio-

logically constituted that the appetite for domination and power to

obtain privileges for oneself and one's group at the expense of those

with whom one is competing, is endemic and ineradicable to human

nature" (pp. 9-10). This assumption leads to two alternative con-

clusions. The first is either that "the world is purposeless," or

second, that "there is not one human nature but two: leader and

follower" (p. 10). The alternative hypothesis is that there exists

a common human nature and the struggle for inequality is not endemic

to it. Then the problem is to explain how things go wrong in society

to produce the common power struggles.

Sampson decides on the latter hypothesis and, after an extensive

analysis of power, concludes that:

Each man has an inner self which exists, however weakly,
and tried to be heard and influence conduct. Failure
occurs because of the external pressures which make it
impossible for the individual to act up to the demands
of the ideal self without arousing acute fears or putting
beyond reach keenly desired pleasures. .. The resolution
of the conflict is a false one; and therefore unconsciously
it continues the more fiercely for being repressed. .
Ultimately, the individual pays a very high price indeed
for his temporizing and his fear and his need to dominate.
(pp. 138-139)

Power as a Personality Construct

This category may initially seem somewhat broad a category which

could encompass all of the work done by psychologists on power. I

have separated it out for two reasons: First, it follows the compre-

hensive review supplied by Henry Minton (1967); second, the work under

this rubric is characterized by a certain theme certain goals and

pre-suppositions which are not completely identical to the other

writings. Minton states, "The present paper will survey theoretical

approaches and consequent attempts at measuring and manipulating the

dimension of latent power" (p. 231). Thus, these approaches are

characterized by the attempts to measure power, to consider it on a

dimension of individual differences, and would implicitly be concerned

with notions such as construct validity. (The following section on

the need-Power also is characterized by these concerns; I am, however,

giving it a separate section because of its extensiveness and direct

application to this work.)

Minton defines power as the "ability to cause environmental change

so as to obtain an intended effect" (p. 229). This definition, he

notes, is in close agreement with Heider's, as well as Russell's

understanding of power (above). Along with other writers, Minton

distinguishes between what he terms "manifest" and "latent" power.

"The production and implementation of power as exemplified by

effectiveness, influence, power strategies, and attempts to gain or

use power are at the level of manifest power, whereas expressed

feelings of individual power and readiness to apply manifest power

represent latent power" (pp. 229-230). Of the two, Minton's review

covers the latter more extensively. Whereas power is the ability

to cause environmental change, latent power is "an example of what

Cambell refers to as an 'acquired behavioral disposition'" (p. 230).

Latent power, then, is "a disposition that has been acquired through

past experiences in instrumental situations and that functions as

a coordinator of behavior in such situations. As a disposition, it

can further be conceived as varying along a dimension of powerless-

ness-powerfulness" (p. 230). As such, Minton believes that power is

related to other psychological concepts such as autonomy, competence,

psychological causality, and field dependence-independence (pp. 230-


In reviewing the early theorists who utilized the concept of

power, Minton mentions Adler, and adds the names of Karen Homey,

Harry Stack Sullivan, Otto Rank and Kurt Lewin. After briefly des-

cribing the role of power in the psychology of each of them, he

proceeds to the three main theorists of power as a personality

construct: Fritz Heider, John Thibaut and Harold Kelley, and

Julian Rotter.

According to Heider, "power as an attitude is reflected by the

attribution of can." "An attitude of powerfulness or high power is

consistent with an action outcome ascribed to the person; an attitude

of powerlessness or low power is consistent with success ascribed to

the environment" (Minton, 1967, p. 232). Heider's investigation

then centers around factors or conditions which participate in the

determination of attribution. For instance, task difficulty is a

factor which affects the attribution of cause. If the task is easy,

causal attribution for successful outcome is assigned to the task.

If the task is hard, a successful outcome is attributed to the person.

Other factors influencing attribution are environmental factors of

luck and opportunity, personal characteristics such as fatigue and

mood, and other factors such as social/legal status, possessions,

needs, opinions, and suggestion. The power attitude, concludes

Minton of Heider, "Is dimensionalized on a continuum extending from

an environmental or external source to a personal or internal source

of action" (p. 234).

Like Heider, Thibaut and Kelley conceive of power as a product

of the person/environment interaction. Their unique contribution

comes in the relationship they posit between power and "comparison

level" (CL). The CL is "a neutral point on a scale of outcomes. Any

event or relationship that produces outcomes above the CL is a source

of gratification to the individual; any event or relationship that

produces outcomes below the CL is a source of dissatisfaction"

(p. 235). The CL thus represents an individual's generalized

expectation of outcomes. The high CL person tends to emphasize

rewards and not costs, and is "characterized by attitudes of power-

fulness and optimism" (p. 235), and thus seems coincident with latent


Thibaut and Kelley's work parallels Heider's in several res-

pects: The high CL person will attribute more causality to himself,

whereas the low CL (low power) person attributes causality more to

the environment.

From his social learning theory, Rotter has developed the concept

of internal versus external control of reinforcement which again seems

to parallel the concept of latent power. Internal versus external

control reflects an individual difference in the attribution of one's

causality in ambiguous situations. In other words, in situations

which are less structured (and have fewer perviously defined sources

of causality), an internally controlled individual will tend to

attribute causality to himself, whereas an external individual will

attribute it more to the environment. This is a "generalized ex-

pectation of one's causal relationship with events" (p. 237) which

is modified by other factors, such as previous expectations, level

of task complexity, etc., as with Heider.

In an in depth review of experimental evidence supporting the

existence of this dimension, Minton discusses several experiments by

Rotter and his colleagues. One of the primary contributions that

Rotter has made with this work is his creation of a scale to measure

internal versus external locus of control the "I/E Scale." The

I/E scale consists of 29 forced choice items which are concerned

with the subject's expectancies (rather than behavioral preferences),

with controls for social desireability and low item validity (p. 240).

Validity and reliability for the I/E scale appear good, according to

Minton, and it has been correlated with the Personality Research Form

(negatively) and different measures of need-Achievement (negatively).

Additionally, the I/E scale has been positively correlated with

measures of Machiavelianism and anxiety (pp. 241-242). The concept

of internal versus external locus of control has also led Rotter to

several hypotheses including ones that there should exist a positive

relationship between internal control and need-Achievement, and that

internals should be "more resistive to subtle attempts that are not

to their benefit" (p. 246). In all, Minton describes the I/E scale

as one workable, operational scaling of the dimension of power and


Minton concludes his review by noting the similarities between

the works of Heider, Thibaut and Kelley and Rotter. Latent power,

he notes, is seen by each of these men as both "a situational and

dispositional variable" (p. 253). While agreement is present, Minton

finds Rotter's schema heuristically most valuable, as it provides both

a differential scale and an experimental framework. He suggests that

these theories have much in common with Adlerian psychology, in the

sense that they all point to "a continuing struggle by the individual

to control or master his environment" (p. 253), but notes that con-

ceptualizing power as a drive seems too simplistic. In these newer

conceptions of power as an expectancy, disposition or attitude,

power is shown to operate in a more complex manner in its deter-

minants and as a predictor (p. 260). While noting that there has

been a general neglect of the dimension of power and powerlessness

in the field (p. 253), and that there are many major issues which

require much clarification (i.e., the interaction of situational

and dispositional determinants in producing latent power), Minton

suggests that the study of power may have implications for the study

of psycho-pathology and behavior modification. He further suggests

that power be examined in order better to understand social change

generally, and concludes that one possible function of the concept

of power is as "an integrative principle within psychology and for

social sciences as a whole" (p. 262).


In this review of current literature dealing with power and

powerlessness, one may notice a trend: There is a shift in emphasis

from the activity of power/powerlessness, or the experience of power/

powerlessness, to a drive, a striving, a will, a love, or a disposition

to power. It is the disposition or the person's tendency which is

then studied in depth, rather than the experience itself. (This is

not to imply that this is a wrong direction, but merely that the

literature is gradually veering away from our topic here.) One

implication of this tendency is that powerlessness, perforce, becomes

the absence of power. A will or striving for power makes sense; a

striving for powerlessness does not. Powerlessness becomes a condition

in which one has no latent power, or perhaps a condition resulting

from the absence of the love or striving for power. This tendency

in the study of power and powerlessness are seen in the research on

the need for power (n-Power) by David McClelland and David Winter.

In his book, The Power Motive, Winter identifies the themes

of research on n-Power as the "identification and measurement of

the striving for power as one important motive or disposition in

individuals" (p. 1). Power, for Winter, is defined as "the ability

or capacity of [one individual] to produce (consciously or uncon-

sciously) intended effects on the behavior or emotions of another

person" (p. 5). Thus, the definition concerns actions that are

social in character that effect another person rather than things;

it deals with actions and effects which are intentional rather than

accidental; and it concerns both the capacity for the production

of effects and their actual production. Winter and McClelland both see

n-Power as a motive as a need in Murray's sense. As such, it is

comparable with the need for achievement, affiliation, etc. It is

an interactional effect between the person's character and the

situation, rather than being a property of either. That is, the

situation can call forth a powerful/powerless response, but it inter-

acts with the individual's own pre-disposition to give that response

(pp. 16-17).

The need for power is seen as a motive. Motives have certain

characteristics for Winter, including: (1) It is goal directed; (2)

behavior is more and more predictable as the goal is approached,

thereafter it is unpredictable with respect to that goal; (3) as the

person approaches the goal, he becomes less and less distractable

from that goal; and (4) the behavior shows intelligent variations with

the situation in order to achieve that goal (p. 29).

Thus, the striving for power is seen as a motivating force

which influences the direction of behaviors to achieve a sense of

ability or capacity in the person to be able to influence others.

The next problem is one of measurement: How can one measure the

amount of striving for power that different people have? To measure

this motive, Winter and McClelland go back to the thought of Murray.

Murray believed that people apperceive objects: They observe them

and assign meaning to them in that perception. This meaning-filled

perception is the apperception. Murray developed the Thematic

Apperception Test (TAT) to give ambiguous stimuli to clients upon

which they could then apperceive project their own meanings

(which would then be interpreted by the clinician). Different scoring

strategies for the n-Power, based on TAT cards, are discussed by

Winter. Among them are the methods of Veroff, Uleman, Winter and

McClelland. One of the earlier methods by Veroff utilized contrasted

groups students seeking college office were assumed to be high in

n-Power and compared with another group similarly low in n-Power.

The McClelland-Atkinson methodology, which both Winter and McClelland

use, is based on the experimental induction of high n-Power in

subjects (pp. 30 ff). After examining this methodology in detail,

Winter discusses the scoring keys, the selection of scorers, the

selection of themes which were looked for in the scoring of TAT

protocols, etc. McClelland describes part of the process as follows:

It turns out that the best and simplest way of finding out
what is going on in a person's head is to ask him to tell
brief imaginative stories to pictures. Under these con-
ditions, he does not know what you are asking and
thus the stories he tells are unlikely to be influenced
by such extraneous variables as the norm of what is
socially desirable .. The key decision then for the
investigator to make is how to arouse the power motive.
Here he falls back on common sense, he locates conditions
that ought to arouse power motives. ... Students were
asked by Veroff (1957) to write imaginative stories while
they were waiting to see if they had been elected to office;
by Uleman after they had served in the powerful role of
experimenter, or after they had watched a convincing
demonstration of hypnosis. .. When Winter sifted through
the fantasy effects of all these arousal experiments, he
gradually evolved a method of subjectively defining and
coding power themes that captured the essence of the
fantasy changes in the simplest, most objective and
coherent manner. .. One starts with power-arousing
experiences; they produce effects in fantasy which are
many and scattered. Out of them all must come a coding
definition which makes sense, which covers all the findings
observed, and which is so objective that any two scorers
can readily agree on the presence or absence of the char-
acteristic being coded. The result is the formal coding
definition of the need for power. (pp. 6-7)

The second major task of both Winter and McClelland is

to establish theories of the need-Power and how it influences

people in social and interpersonal situations. Winter discusses

this in terms of the legend of Don Juan, concluding that "power is

a form of conquest; arising from an ambivalent fear of a powerful and

binding mother, and symbolized by the sexual degradation of women.

Yet in the end, power is a fleeting illusion, because in death it

inexorably ends with the swallowing up of even the most powerful man"

(p. 200). Winter next discusses the need for power and its effect

on society, concluding that "n-Power is associated with movements

that emphasize norms but do not attempt to change values, [which]

fits with the occupations that tend to be high in n-Power: teaching,

psychology, the clergy, business management, and leadership in urban

renewal" (p. 211). Finally, Winter analyzes the power motives of

powerful leaders in society in this case American presidents.

He says, "Power motivation is associated with powerful actions

and effects war, territorial change, and rapid turnover of advisors.

If these general qualities of strength and activity are positive

values, and if the specific outcomes are thought to be appropriate

for the society, then n-Power will be associated with positive judge-

ment and evaluation" (p. 220).

McClelland, in his book, Power, The Inner Experience, spends

much less time describing the measurement of n-Power, and much more

time with an elaborate developmental theory of the need for power.

He breaks down n-Power into four stages depending on whether the

source of power is inside or outside the self, and whether the object

of power is inside or outside the self. These stages are described

as follows: Stage 1: It strengthens me. I receive personal power

from outside. This is an oral, being supported stage, with an

"action correlate" of power oriented reading. Stage 2: I strengthen,

control, direct myself. This is an anal, autonomous, "will oriented"

stage, with a correlate of accumulating prestige possessions. Stage

3: I have an impact (influence) on others. This stage is phallic,

involving assertive action, with a correlate of competitive sports

or arguing. Stage 4: It (religion, laws, the group) moves me to serve,

influence others. This is a stage of "genital mutuality, principled

assertion, duty," with a correlate of organizational membership.

Thus, McClelland's four stages of power are correlated with Freudian

psycho-sexual stages, with possible pathologies (hysteria, obsessive-

ness, etc.), with certain occupations, and with general styles of

actions which the individual will find satisfying (pp. 12-14).

McClelland attempts to relate these stages of power with increasing

personal maturity.

Boys start out normally by identifying strongly with their
mothers [in stage ]. .. They are caught up in the world
of thought, fantasy, and dreaming, as if they want to
remain united in this way with a kind of mother principle.
If they advance, they find it necessary to break with all
organized responsibility and to show signs of self-control
and self-direction, to be strong on their own. This
trend is accentuated at Stage 3, when they become typically
more assertive, identify with the "male principle," and
begin to act like miniature Don Juans. .. Finally, if
all goes well, they give up their ego-centric assertive-
ness, submit to institutional authority, and join in a
mutually rewarding relationship with their wives. (p. 74)

The theory is then developed in terms of n-Power and the impact

on society. It can be noted that, first, there is a strongly Freudian

undercurrent to the developmental thought of McClelland, and second,

that there is a strong value judgement implicit in becoming "mature,"

achieving the Stage 4 power orientation, and thus joining (or re-

joining) society. Other schools of psychology might well advocate

one of the other stages (e.g., Stage 2 autonomy) as the "to be

strived for," "mentally healthy" stage of development.

McClelland goes on to apply this theory of power to the study

of a national character that of India to both demonstrate that the

study of national character is possible and to give an analysis of a

"feminine," "passively oriented" national character (p. 123). He

then relates the variables of n-Power and n-Achievement to war,

leadership, and societal change, concluding that different conditions

(e.g., high n-Power with low n-Achievement) are the grounding

conditions or even causes of war and peace, strong versus weak

leadership, societal change versus stagnation.

The theories of McClelland and Winter are suggestive, and

their attempt to measure the n-Power is the only such systematic

attempt reported in the literature. It should be noted, again,

that the experience of power and powerlessness is not what is

measured or studied. Rather, the need for power is measured,

rather than the extent or presence of power or powerlessness.

This is an important point for our purposes, because the present

study answers a prior question: What is this power/powerlessness

which people are motivated to attain? As noted, Winter and McClel-

land's definitions are based on common sense. Material possessions,

high offices, the psychological experimenter's position are all

assumed to manifest high n-power, where power is identified with

the "can" being able to do what one desires (Winter, 1973, p. 4).

Social, Political and Economic Power

Certain writers have written on power, concentrating less on its

definition or attempting to scientifically investigate and/or measure

the experience, but more investigating its social, political and

economic implications. Among these writers are Berle, Sorokin,

Gamson, Haley, Felker, Sampson and Lasswell. In addition, other

writers such as McClelland, Winter and Russell (above) have theorized

about social and political implications for their theories. While it

would be a digression to detail all these social, political and economic

theories, the actual definitions and conceptualizations of power they

utilize may prove instructive.

Adolf Berle's (1969) book, Power, is a good example of a book

in this class. Berle is concerned both with describing power and

the laws under which it operates, and detailing political and economic

manifestations of power. It is interesting to note that Berle does

not define what power is. The definition is given implicitly: It

seems to involve the imposition of one's will on other people. This

will can then determine political and economic systems and/or major

occurrences (as well as interpersonal outcomes on a smaller scale).

Berle states that the "greatest single study of power on record [is]

Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince. ." (p. 19). This indicates the

context or direction within which Berle understands power. He sees

power as being opposed to reason; where power is the naked imposition

of will, reason, ideas, and philosophy temper this willful action.

He states, "thought and reason can challenge power," but power needs

thought and reason; either alone leads to chaos (p. 8). Thus, power

seems equated or similar to force. Similarly, Berle compares power

to property. "Property and power are essentially the same substance"

(p. 9). "Property and power may be the same phenomenon in different

phases of development" (p. 23). This analysis is one of economic

history; Berle refers to the feudal lords of the middle ages as having

power insofar as they possessed property. By extension, they and they

alone could decide what happened on that property. Further, the

Marxian concept of the dis-enfranchised working class was compared

to the property owners the landed gentry who controlled the

economic and political institutions. The mine owner (he who owned

that piece of property) decided when the mine worker (not possessing

property) worked, the wages he would be paid, etc.

However, Berle states that raw power is not enough in and of

itself. "Nietzsche, like the Marquis de Sade, who anticipated some

of his doctrines, ended in a madhouse the only possible result of

a religion of power for its own sake" (p. 32). In addition to having

personally disastrous results, power when wielded with no thought of

the common good, leads to the revolt of the masses. Machiavelli,

Berle states, studied naked power without morality. Even he decided

that the prince needed "good" laws so that the masses would not hate him.

The problem, Berle observes, with twentieth century businesses, is that

they have not integrated power with any morality yet (pp. 29-30).

Thus, power is seen as an imposition of will, of a person's

"getting what he wants," apparently without consideration for the needs

of other people. It is tempered with reason and morality if it is not

to lead to chaos. This is an important point for many of the writers

reviewed so far: What tempers power are other forces (e.g. laws,

custom).- Power is the imposition of will; it is not part of power

that restrains this imposition.

These thoughts are explicated by Berle in his five laws of power:

(1) Order against chaos: A power vacuum is always filled by a power

holder or a number of them. Reasons for this include a need for order

at every level of society. Berle says, "lacking it, individuals or

larger elements in a situation fly apart, seeking to find place in

some order of things where they can live, work or enjoy themselves

without being despoiled or interrupted" (p. 39). The second reason

that power vacuums are always filled is from the nature of man: "Instinct

for power exists to some degree in everyone. Like all human instincts,

it is stronger in some than in others, though never wholy absent"

(p. 40).

The second law is (2) Power is invariably personal: Unlike

Russell, Berle believes that power does not exist without a power

holder. A group does not have power; individuals) in the group have

power. Similarly, an elite or a class does not have power; power

holders may come from a certain class or elite group (p. 64). The

possession of power is an emotional experience; a man may break under

the pressures of power, or he may change. "One of the first impacts

[of power] is the realization that the obligation of power takes

precedence over other obligations formerly held nearest and dearest.

A man in power can have no friends. ." (p. 65).

Berle also states that (3) Power is invariably based on a system

of ideas or philosophy: He states, "Two ingredients of power are

inseparable. One is an idea system, a philosophy. The other is

an institutional structure transmitting the will of the power holder.

Without an idea system, institutions cannot be constructed and certainly

cannot endure. Without institutions, power cannot be generated, used

or expanded" (p. 84). The ideas and philosophy are the third law,

the fourth (which he conceives as melding with the third) is that

(4) Power is exercised through, and depends on, institutions.

The final rule is (5) Power is invariably confronted with, and

acts in the presence of, a field of responsibility. The basic meaning

of this is that in the exercise of power, the power holder invariably

meets other people with other needs and desires and powers of their

own. In the encounter with the other, a dialogue ensues in which

the original person's will and actions are tempered, and compromise


Berle extends his analysis first to economic power. He reviews

certain historical aspects of economics from a somewhat Marxian

position, and analyzes the power holders in capitalistic states.

These include both the capitalists themselves the investors, the

corporate decision makers, and the organized labor movements the

workers and their leaders. Berle next analyzes political power in

the United States: the federal government, the office of the

president, the political officers and bureaucrats, congress and the

press. Similarly, he analyzes the power dynamics of the judicial

power structure (the courts in the U.S.), and international power

(the world wide fight of order against chaos).

Berle's analysis is instructive in many ways. In addition to

his insightful observations of power, its manifestations and laws, we

can begin to see part of the disagreement between different theorists

of power. Berle, par excellence, is a theorist who would disagree

with many of the conclusions of the existential analyses of men like

Nietzsche, Tillich and May. Part of the reasons for this can be seen

in Berle's concern with order versus chaos his fear of chaos and

his implicit analysis of it as being continually warded off. He states

some of these pre-suppositions explicitly: "Unhappily, chaos is never

too far away. .. The most habitually orderly and law-abiding popu-

lation has within it some elements whose conduct is kept within bounds

only by external retraint that is, by the presence of power. They

emerge when power no longer is there. They subside only when it

returns unless they or one fragment of them sets up a tiny power

system and takes over. If not immediately filled by the power

institution and institutions of the community, some boss ganster,

usurper, or vigilante committee will occupy the field" (pp. 49-50).

In his book, Power and Discontent, William Gamson describes the

operation of power within a community or political system in terms

of the relations between the authorities and potential partisans.

Potential partisans view power as an instrument for the achievement

of personal goals. They attempt to influence the authorities and

restructure institutions. Thus, partisans have an influence

perspective on power. Political parties, interest groups, elite

groups, conflict groups all have this common element: They are

concerned with who gets what, when and how. They are oriented

towards actors within the system, and concerned for how groups try

to get what they want, not the consequences for social stability.

Similarly, discontent is seen as an opportunity or a danger, rather

than as a problem of social control.

On the other side, the authorities see the use of power as the

potential for the achievement of collective goals, and the maintenance

of legitimacy and compliance in the group. It is thus a social control

perspective. It asks the question: How does the leadership operate

to achieve societal goals most efficiently while avoiding costly side

effects? The power holders are thus seen as conflict regulators, with

the following orientations: The power holder is seen as the agent of

the system as a whole. He has concern for regulation of conflict,

not strategies for getting what is desired. Discontent is seen as

a problem to be managed, not as an opportunity or danger (pp. 1-17).

Gamson states that to understand power one must examine both of

these viewpoints. "Authorities are those who make binding

decisions for a system" (p. 21), whereas "potential partisans [are]

that set of actors who, for a given decision, are affected by the

outcome in some 'significant' way" (p. 32). The relationship of these

authorities with these partisans is the important relationship for

the understanding of power. This relationship may be one of dis-

content (distrust, alienation, dis-satisfaction, dis-affection), or

of trust (confidence, support, allegiance, satisfaction) (p. 38).

And it is in the understanding of this relationship that one will

understand the underlying power dynamics in a society or group.

Robert Lasswell, in Power and Personality, sees a very close

relationship between power and politics. He states, "We speak of

politicizing of human relationships when they are transformed into

power relationships" (p. 16). Thus, his book is an inquiry with a

socio-political objective "the more perfect instrumentation of

democratic values" (p. 9). Power is defined by Lasswell in an

interpersonal context. Power involves "relationships in which severe

deprivations are expected to follow the breach of a pattern of conduct"

(p. 12). Thus, the role of expectation is crucial. "[One person]

demands certain conduct, threatens or inflicts severe deprivations,

and others validate the expectation by conformity" (p. 16) "The

degree to which X influences a decision measures the weight of the

power of X. The domain of power is the people affected by it"

(p. 19). Lasswell believes that power, defined in this way, is more

useful than Russell's definition of power as the production of

intended effects. This definition, Lasswell contends, is too

broad and is only concerned with conduct (rather than intention).

From this initial political understanding of power, Lasswell

goes on to ask, are there born leaders? Power is often used

synonymously with leadership (p. 11), and Lasswell is concerned with

analyzing the "political type person." This type of person, says

Lasswell, "passes through a distinctive career line in which the power

opportunities of each situation are selected in preference to other

opportunities" (p. 21). The source of this preference is in the

"intense and ungratified craving for deference, which is displaced

on public objects, and rationalized in terms of public interest"

(p. 38). Thus, the political person pursues power in an attempt to

overcome low estimates of himself (p. 39). The democratic personality -

getting back to his original goal can only come when the person

overcomes this low self estimate. "The democratic personality must love

himself enough to love all" (p. 221).

We may conclude our examination of theorists who discuss social

viewpoints on power with some of the definitions of power which they,

and others, have used in their works. Sampson (1965) discusses

power (see above) and states that "by power is meant the production

of desired consequences in the behavior or belief of another, where


the intent to exercise personal ascendency is present. Gamson (1968)

quotes several definitions of power. He refers to Simon as saying that

"The statement 'A has power over B' is equivalent to the statement

that 'A causes B's behavior'" (p. 60). This, is should be noted,

omits the conception of intention. Gamson himself states that

influence involves altering behavior from what it would have been

otherwise (p. 60). In The Power Game (1969), Charles Felker compiled

a series of essays by other writers. Among them is Robert Dahl who

states that power is the ability of someone to influence someone else to

act in a way he otherwise would not act (Felker, 1969, p. 8), whereas

Max Weber is quoted as stating that power is the "choice of a man or

a number of men to realize their own will in a communal action even

against the resistance of others who are participating in the action"

(Felker, 1969, p. 8). William D'Antonio utilizes a division much

like Gamson's and breaks power into two subclasses: Authority basedd

on the position in a hierarchical structure) and influence (a "more

subtle phenomenon manifested in the willingness of a people to obey

other who lack formal authority') (Felker, 1969, p. 9). Tom Wolfe,

in perhaps the most elegant social definition of power, entitled his

essay, "The Ultimate Power: Seeing Them Jump!" (Felker, 1969, p. iv).


The review of the theories and research on the phenomena of

power and powerlessness leaves the reader with many questions and

observed disagreements. Among these are the following: What is

the relationship between power and love? Are they antithetical or

are they part of the same phenomenon? Is power good, evil or

neutral? Alternatively, is it the use/misuse of power which leads

to good or evil outcomes? Does the exercise, possession of or

experience of power lead to self-actualization, to moral degradation,

or is it neutral with respect to human development? Is there a

striving for, craving for, or love of power? If so, is it inherent

or the product of family and society? What is the relationship

between power and superiority, force, the imposition of one's will

on another? Does the exercise of power always take away the power

of another person or group? Is power always interpersonal, or can

it be within the person or between a person and objects? Is power

latent, manifest, or both?

The review also demonstrates that the biases and assumptions of

the theorist or researcher influence, to an extent, his conclusions.

Berle serves as an example of this when he states that "unhappily,

chaos is never far away," that without the exercise of power in society,

the world of the strong, of "might equals right," will rapidly approach.

Likewise, the social/political definitions of power universally involve

the notion that power is a power over others, involving one person's

or group's dominance for instance, Wolfe's "Seeing Them Jump"

definition of power.

Thus, the review of the present literature first provides us with

a basis upon which to build our research it illuminates both the

present definitions and contexts from which these definitions were

made to us. Secondly, it throws light on the contradictions and

questions raised by the present work, and gives us a secondary ob-

jective: To provide an understanding of powerlessness (and even-

tually power) which can ground and underlie these disparate under-

standings of the phenomena and serve as a starting point for further




This chapter describes the methodology used for the phenomen-

ological study of powerlessness. It briefly describes the phenom-

enological enterprise summarizing its purpose and approach.

It then discusses the general methodology of phenomenological studies -

the bracketing of natural attitudes and imaginative variation.

Following this, the specific methodology followed in this study is

presented: the techniques used to collect data and the operations

performed to analyze it, including the factor analytic operations.

The phenomenological method is one which is patently not nor-

mative in modern psychology. It uses a special language and termin-

ology, and it relies extensively on existential-phenomenological

philosophy. Both of these are often unfamiliar to most research

psychologists. Thus, this chapter presumes an initial familiarity with

the phenomenological approach and method, to save what could easily

constitute a several hundred page explanation. This approach and

method are based on those of the Duquesne Circle of American phenom-

enological psychologists; the reader is referred for more extensive

background to Amedeo Giorgi's Psychology as a Human Science, Paul

Colaizzi's Reflection and Research in Psychology, and Giorgi et al.

(eds.) Duquesne Studies in Phenomenological Psychology (Vol's I and II).



For a more detailed explanation of the specific methodology employed

in this study, its rationale, development and variations, the reader

is referred to W. Bruck, "Toward a phenomenological approach and

method for psychological research" (unpublished).

Phenomenology may be defined as the study of experience, done

within a certain set of assumptions and within a certain context.

Its purpose is to elucidate the nature of our experiences of the

world in which we live. Its assumptions include a certain ontology,

epistomology, and general view of man. We may very briefly sum-

marize some of these highlights by saying, first, that ontologically,

man is considered as Being-in-the-World. He is fundamentally in his

world, and neither he nor the world can be conceived apart from each

other. Thus, he co-constitutes the world in which he lives his

lifeworld. That is, epistomologically, he does not create the

world as a product of his imagination, nor does he discover that

which is already there. Neither he nor the world exist alone. He

uncovers and simultaneously participates in the creation of meanings

which he finds in the world. This is the nature of his experience -

an uncovering, a bringing to light, meanings in the world that he

already pre-reflectively lives out. Thus, we pre-reflectively live out

the meaning of a chair (we sit in it), a hammer (we pound nails with

it), and the other objects we meet in our world before we reflectively

think about them. The phenomenological enterprise is concerned with

bringing these pre-reflective'meanings that we already know on some

level to light explicating them thematically.

Meanings, for phenomenologists, are always given to us par-

tially reflectively and partially pre-reflectively. We spontan-

eously live out the meanings of hammers and other objects, of thoughts,

experiences and emotions. The task of the phenomenologist is to

take our pre-reflective experience of, for instance, powerlessness,

and bring it to light to elucidate its fundamental structure and

meaning. We do not co-constitute these meanings alone or solipsis-

tically. Rather, we are also fundamentally Being-in-the-World-

with-others. We were taught our fundamental perceptions (apper-

ceptions as Murray would put it) of the world by others, and it is

within the context of others that we live in the world. Thus, we

may use the accounts of others' experiences to help us elucidate our

own pre-reflective experiences. The experiences of others, then,

are considered as containing fundamentally human structure, meanings

and significance. We dialogue our own experiences with them, in a

give and take.

We may, then, refer back to our present project. We are utilizing

the phenomenological method for answering the question, "What is

the experience of powerlessness?" In doing so, we are attempting to

examine our already present pre-reflective experience and knowledge of

what powerlessness is. We are attempting to dialogue this present

understanding with the experiences of others. By doing so, we will

arrive at a more reflective, thematic understanding of the fundamental

structure and significance of the experience of powerlessness. This

structure, or essence, of powerlessness is exactly that: the essential,

essence-tial, qualities which constitute the meaning of powerlessness


for the experimenter in his own life. As this understanding is ar-

rived at in dialogue with the understandings of others, and remember-

ing the essentially intersubjective nature of our experiences, this

structure should then be a general structure of the significance

of powerlessness for us as human beings.

Phenomenological Method: General

There are two principal aspects of the phenomenological method

which are present in every investigation which stems from the writings

of the phenomenological and existential-phenomenological writers

such as Martin Heidegger, Edmund Husserl, Jean-Paul Sartre and

Maurice Merleau-Ponty. These are termed imaginative variation and

the bracketing of one's natural attitude. They shall be considered

separately here, and each briefly described.

Bracketing Natural Attitude

In using his reflective powers, man constantly conceptualizes

about the world, and specifically about his own experiences of the

world. We put constructs on this experience in an attempt to under-

stand it better. In doing so we distance ourselves from our direct

pre-reflective experience of that world. (We also become distinctively

human in so doing; this distancing is not considered bad.) Some of

these conceptualizations and constructs are: Seing a tree as a coor-

dinated grouping of molecules, atoms and sub-atomic particles of a

specified nature in a specified structure; conceiving of one event

causing another; understanding human behavior with constructs such

as id, ego, response sets, operant conditions, Being-needs, etc.

These attitudes, beliefs and intellectual constructs are collectively

known as our "natural attitude." It is natural in the sense that it

is the attitude or set with which we habiatually approach the world.

Unfortunately, while the natural attitude helps us to concep-

tualize and think about our world, it also presents certain problems.

One of these is that it hides phenomena from our gaze. It covers

up our experience of the world with our thoughts (natural attitude)

about that world. Thus, the phenomenologist, in attempting to see

phenomena as they are in themselves, "brackets" this natural attitude.

That is, piece by piece, he takes his pre-suppositions and puts them

in brackets, puts them aside, and views his experience afresh. There

is a philosophic argument among phenomenologists which need not

concern us here as to whether or not the natural attitude can in fact

be bracketed completely, to allow a completely unbiased and unrestricted

view of the phenomenon. The methodology of this paper tends towards

that of Merleau-Ponty which would say "no" to this question, that the

most we can do is to make explicit as many of our biases as we can

recognize and bracket others. Some, however, will still remain.

(See also on this point Giorgi, 1975, pp. 94 & 101.)

Examples of bracketing one's natural attitude involve setting

aside our psychological theories, conceptions of causality, and the

like. For instance, I may reflect on powerlessness and think some-

thing like, "I was definitely powerless, but it was mainly unconscious,

I didn't realize it." At this point I would stop myself and bracket

the "unconscious" and attempt to restate what I was thinking in terms

of how I experienced it. It might suffice to say, "I was not aware of

it, but when Sam pointed it out, I realized that I had been feeling

powerless." In another situation, I might think, "I was powerless,

which caused me to feel depressed and lonely." Putting it this way

implies that there was one event or process (powerlessness), that

then produced another event or process (depression and loneliness).

This was not given in the experience, but rather was our construction

of it. It, too, would be bracketed and re-formulated in a way as to

more directly reflect the experience: "I was powerless and de-

pressed," or possibly, "I felt powerless; a few minutes later, I

felt depressed."

In bracketing the natural attitude, we achieve a greater openness

to the phenomenon. Being open to the phenomenon means letting it

speak to us, not deciding a priori what categories or constructs it

will be fit into, but rather taking it on its own terms. As Merleau-

Ponty might say, the world calls out meanings to us, and being open

is being able to listen to them. This openness is accomplished by

bracketing the natural attitude; by putting aside, temporarily, the

pre-conceptions, theories, constructs, ideas and other intellectual

"equipment" which might get in the way of perceiving the phenomenon

as it gives itself.

Imaginative Variation

In reflecting on our experiences and the experiences of others,

the phenomenological method also employs imaginative variation. In

this, the phenomenological psychologist mentally varies the situation,

making different parts of it happen differently, and examining the

result. For instance, in one protocol discussed below, the subject

felt angry, and then felt guilty that he was angry. In varying this

mentally, we can imagine the powerless situation; we can imagine ourselves

feeling angry and outraged; we can imagine ourselves feel guilty as

we realize the extent of this anger. Then we can vary the situation:

we can imagine the powerlessness, the anger and outrage, but with-

out the guilt. Does this change the essential nature of the situation

as being powerless for us? In this case it does not seem to. I

would feel equally powerless whether or not I felt guilty about being

angry. Thus, the guilt is not of the essence of powerlessness.

(Alternatively, if we say yes, then guilt in some way does participate

in the essence of powerlessness.)

In The Structure of Behavior, Merleau-Ponty describes imaginative

variation as follows:

This intuition of essences, like induction, as we have
seen, is based on facts. The difference is that [this
intuition of essences] is based on the imaginary 'free
variation' of certain facts. In order to grasp an es-
sence, we consider a concrete experience, and then we
make it change in our thought, trying to imagine it as
effectively modified in all respects. That which
remains invariable through these changes is the essence
of the phenomenon in question. (1963, p. 70)


The final characteristic of the phenomenological method, in general,

is the attitude of the researcher. Attitude is not uniquely important

to the phenomenological researcher. To construct a good experiment

in, for example, the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, one must

approach the situation with a certain "set." One must have concern

for selecting a proper baseline, one must anticipate problems with

the experimental design and/or equipment. One must weigh how to do

the experiment to best conserve money and manpower. Knowing the

operations to follow in an experiment from reading, for example,

Sidman's Tactics of Scientific Research, will not guarantee a

successful course of experiments. One also needs a certain analy-

tical style of thinking, a "feel" for schedules and shaping behavior,

a certain perspective enabling the prospective experimenter to take

into account possible confounding variables, alternative explanations,


What is the corresponding attitude with which the phenomenological

psychologist attempts to approach his research? It is certainly one

in which the research remains open to the phenomenon, bracketing his

natural attitude and employing imaginative variation. It is one in

which the experimenter thinks less in terms of linear cause and effect.

It is one in which the investigator puts aside his customary style

of thinking of hypotheses, variables, and more generally of critical

analysis. One generally thinks in terms of structure, of empathic

understanding of the subject's material, of a holistic approach to the

problem (without clearly defined boundaries or solutions). More

generally, the phenomenological attitude is one which can appropriate

and embrace, at least for the time of the research, the phenomenological

approach, its assumptions, goals, and characteristics. (For a further

discussion of this approach see Bruck, unpublished, 1976.)

This attitude is perhaps the most important key to the phenomeno-

logical research. Without it, no set of operations will guide the

researcher to the structures of phenomena. (This is why students of

phenomenological psychology in my experience must learn the approach

before attempting the method; otherwise they spontaneously and


persistently think analytically, in terms of cause and effect,

moderator variables, etc., rather than what is given directly in

their own experience.) With the attitude, the set of operations

discussed below serve as guides, as signposts. They help the

researcher to stay on track and to productively reflect on his

own experience.

Data Collection

In examining the question of the collection of data, we must

ask several questions: What constitutes data? How can we best

collect it? How much of it do we need? To answer these questions,

the first consideration is the question which the research is attemp-

ting to answer: What is the nature of the experience of powerless-

ness? The data which immediately seem relevant are exactly the

experiences of powerlessness. Thus, the type of data which is

collected is accounts of these experiences, both from the experimenter

himself and from other subjects. In soliciting these experiences,

the purpose of so doing must be kept clearly in mind: The investi-

gator, as a necessary condition to his investigation of the experience

of powerlessness, already knows what powerlessness is, at some level.

This knowledge, to a greater or lesser degree, is implicit and pre-

reflective. His purpose in doing the investigation is to bring to

light this pre-reflective knowledge; to explicate it and show it for

itself. Thus, protocols (accounts of experiences) are obtained in

order to help the researcher bring his own implicit knowledge to

thematic awareness and language it in a communicable manner.

Protocols were solicited for this research as follows: Students

of mine and I asked different people to describe a situation or

situations in which they felt powerless, using the following format:

Please remember back to a time when you felt power-
less. I would like you to describe this experience
as completely as you can. What was the situation?
What did you do, and what did others do? What were
your feelings at the time? What thoughts or per-
ceptions did you have during the experience? Was
there an identifiable beginning or ending to the
experience? Please try, in your description, to be
as concrete and specific as you can. Please do not
reflect on the experience or discuss what you now
think about it or how you now interpret it. As much
as you can, I would like to just capture the actual
experience that you went through.

This protocol was followed up by an interview in which the re-

searcher asked the subject about the areas in the protocol that were

unclear to him. Protocols were originally obtained both by having

the subject write down the experience and by taping oral accounts.

The latter was found not to give substantially more information, but

resulting in much longer protocols as the subjects would talk far

more than they would write. As the initial analyses by my students

seemed to show no difference between the two, subsequent protocols

were obtained in writing.

Obtaining data in this way follows the methods of Giorgi (1971)

and Colaizzi (1973) in obtaining accounts of experiences in "natural-

istic" rather than laboratory settings. This is considered more ap-

propriate than a standardized laboratory setting; Giorgi states that

rigor for phenomenological psychology comes in capturing the same theme

through different manifestations in situations (i.e., the same meaning

for the subject) rather than standardizing the situation (i.e., the

same meaning for the experimenter)(Giorgi, 1971). Further, the phenom-

enological approach attempts to return to the lifeworld of the subjects.

It attempts to capture the experiences of the subjects holistically -

within the context that they naturally occur rather than under

artificial conditions (and thus different contexts and horizons of

meaning than the subject's lifeworld).

Approximately 50 protocols were obtained by my students and

myself. Situations ranged from very physical situations of power-

lessness (being caught in a rip-tide, a car out of control), through

emotional and physical situations (being arrested for drugs, being

incarcerated in prison), to more purely "emotional" or "mental"

situations (being unable to assert oneself with parents, being

powerless to help a friend with his depression). Analyses were per-

formed on all of these by my students to a greater or lesser depth;

and all were read by me to give me an overview of the different types

of powerless situations.

This brings up again one of our original questions: How many

protocols are necessary for the investigation? The basic answer to

this question is as many as the investigator needs to help him explicate

his own experience of the phenomenon. Specifically, the experimenter

solicits protocols until he stops learning new things about the phenom-

enon, until he stops getting any appreciable amount of new information.

In practise, this usually takes about a dozen protocols (for common

experiences such as powerlessness, anger, etc.). In this case, I had

the opportunity of examining a much larger number which offered a

greater breadth of situations of powerlessness. It is interesting to

note, however, that even the superficial phenomenological analyses of

these protocols indicated that the same underlying structure was present

in apparently situationally disparate experiences.

This highlights one of the difficulties with the phenomeno-

logical method. We discussed above that protocols are protocols for

the researcher, embodying the experience of powerlessness as it is

experienced by the subject. It is for this reason that laboratory

experiences are less appropriate they are pre-defined experiences

that the researcher must assume will be powerless (and powerless in a

naturalistically relevant sense) to the subject. For similar reasons

it is difficult to obtain protocols which are comprehensive that cover

the range of possible experiences of the phenomena in question. If

we try to do this (as I actually did informally above by categorizing

the protocols into emotional versus physical situations) we are

putting our pre-defined constructs on that phenomenon and vitiating

the root of the phenomenological methodology. We are taking the

meaning of the other's experience for us (it is emotional versus

physical) rather than being open to the client's meaning and ex-

perience. In fact, in this investigation, the pilot study seemed

to show that such a broad range was unnecessary, as the structures

(the meanings to the subjects) of the experiences of radically different

situations (to us) were identical.

However, the caveat must be made. The researcher stops obtaining

new protocols when he stops getting new information. However, there

is no guarantee that 64 protocols later he might not come across one

which would fundamentally alter his structure. This is a weakness

in the methodology, which is partially dealt with in several ways:

First is imaginative variation the researcher varies the situation

in his mind. In fact, in the structure of powerlessness below, through

this method, one resolution of powerless situations that was not

described in any protocols was explicated. Secondly, the phenomen-

ological result is and must be considered not as an objectively valid

result for all time and for all people. It is a result in dialogue,

both with other researchers and with other clients. As clients (or

researchers) describe experiences which do not fit into the current

structure, the structure is and must remain open to modification and

dialogue with other data. Finally, it might be pointed out that the

phenomenological study is an in-depth analysis of experience. As such

it can do much to facilitate our understanding of experiences that the

more traditional methodologies cannot. In doing so, however, it

gives up certain other advantages. Certainly, precision and objective

certitude are lessened (or at the very least conceived of differently)

than in experimental studies. This is another characteristic and

shortcoming of the phenomenological method that the researcher must

remain aware of.

Protocol Analysis

The data for the phenomenological study is thus the accounts of

the experiences of powerlessness (protocols). These protocols are

obtained from both the experimenter himself and from other subjects.

They are analyzed, generally, using imaginative variation, bracketing

one's natural attitude, and within the phenomenological attitude. The

specific operations which were used to facilitate these general prin-

ciples can be broken down into several steps and discussed separately.

They include (1) initial reading, (2) meaning units, (3) combinations,

(4) themes, (5) clusters, (6) fundamental situated or general

description, and (7) fundamental structure. The analyses were carried

out on two levels: Each protocol was analyzed separately, resulting

in fundamental situated descriptions. Then the situated descriptions

were combined into a general description, and a fundamental general

structure was obtained from this. Again, this specific methodology

follows that of Giorgi and Colaizzi with certain variations, and is

detailed in Bruck (unpublished, 1976).

Initial Reading

The initial reading is done, as Giorgi notes, to get an overall,

holistic sense of the protocol. It is read with no conscious attempt

to reflect or vary the situation, but merely to be open to what it has

to say. In this initial reading (especially of many protocols) one

can get an idea of the different manifestations of the phenomenon,

and some beginning sense of commonalities between the differing


Meaning Units

In the next stage, the protocol is broken down into meaning

units. A meaning unit is anything that says something of discrete

importance or significance to the researcher. Different researchers

will have different sets of meaning units for the same protocol. In

part, this is a stylistic difference while some researchers will break

down each sentence almost by clauses, others will take whole groups

of phrases and sentences as one meaning unit. As with many other

aspects of the analysis, the meaning units are for-the-researcher.

He should break them down into meaning units that will help him to gain

understanding of the whole.

In this stage the original phraseology of the entire protocol

is usually retained in order not to inadvertently omit something

of importance. During the next stages parts can be eliminated, but

this should only be done after reflection has shown them not essen-

tial to the structure of the experience.


After the protocol is broken down into meaning units, the researcher

may take an extra step: The meaning units are re-read, and ones which

are completely repetitive are combined. Often the subject will repeat

something like, "I felt angry," or "I was powerless;" these statements

can be combined. Further, if there are statements which do not re-

late to the phenomenon at all for instance, where the subject

starts talking about another interesting although completely un-

related experience, these statements may be eliminated. Before

doing this the investigator should, through imaginative variation,

determine whether the statements are, in fact, unrelated. If

possible, the researcher may in the inquiry ask the subject what

relation apparently disparate remarks have.


In the next stage each meaning unit is interrogated for its

significance for the experience in question. For example, we might

look at a meaning unit and ask ourselves, "What does this tell us

about powerlessness? What is the underlying significance of the

subject's statement?" In this stage, some of the specificity of

the situation is transcended and usually the theme is phrased in

terms of "the subject" rather than the original "I".

For readability, meaning units and themes are usually listed

across from each other on the same page. This helps the reader to see

exactly which statement is generating which theme, and he can shift

back and forth between the two levels of analysis.


From the themes, the next step is to reflect and obtain a fun-

damental (or situated) description of the phenomenon. In doing this

it is very often helpful to first reflect on the themes as they are listed

and see if any groupings or clusters stand out. Often themes will seem

to have certain subjects which they center around as the investigator

re-reads the list of them. At other times, if the researcher just lets

his mind "relax," as he reads through the protocol, meaning units

and/or themes, key words may stand out for him. These may be metaphor-

ical in nature, and facilitate his structuring the underlying meaning

of the protocol.

In considering the themes by clusters, there is an initial cate-

gorization or division of the protocol into component parts. This

is done holistically: The researcher keeps in mind that the division

is his to facilitate his understanding, rather than given in the

experience, and these clusters will be re-integrated into a whole

in the next level of analysis.

Situated Description

At this point, the researcher must begin reflecting on the

clusters as he discerned them, and may also refer back to the protocol

as a whole, the meaning units or the themes. The researcher at this point

engages in phenomenological reflection imaginative variation and

bracketing to relate the clusters back into a whole function.

This description is a presentation of the essential elements which

constituted the experience of powerlessness in this particular sit-

uation; as such, it presents the clusters re-integrated into a whole,

complete structure. It may not refer to the specific situation men-

tioned in the original protocol, and it may use metaphor to communicate

the understanding, but it in some way reflects the essential elements

of the original experience.

The description is termed situated since it is based on the

specific situation the subject describes. It may not accurately

reflect the fundamental elements of other powerless situations.

However, obviously, since the researcher varies the situation in

his mind while reflecting on the protocol, it is not completely

specific to the situation. It does in some ways transcend that

situation, but makes no particular effort to embrace all possible


Final Analysis

After the analyses of each protocol are performed, another level

of analysis takes place. In this analysis, the situated descriptions

are used as a starting point, and a fundamental general description

and a fundamental structure are arrived at.

Fundamental General Description

For this analysis, the researcher reads over all the situated

descriptions he has obtained, along with other protocols which have

not been analyzed. In reflecting on these, he may consider which

elements are common throughout all protocol analyses. More impor-

tantly, however, he looks at elements which appear at first glance

to be disparate and attempts to find more fundamental structures which

embrace both apparently contradictory structures. The result is a

description of the experience of powerlessness which underlies the

different situated descriptions, as well as the original protocols


Fundamental Structure

The final level of analysis results in a fundamental structure,

which expresses the essence of the experience of powerlessness. In

this level, the researcher examines the fundamental descriptions and

reflects further on them. The descriptions tell, basically, what

happens to a person in the experience of powerlessness. Put crudely,

the investigator then asks the question, "So what?" What is the

significance of these happenings for the person's life? What is

their underlying meaning? Colaizzi distinguishes between these final

levels as follows:

In approaching the [Fundamental Description] the researcher
seeks to present what is essential to the explicit des-
cription of the experiential phenomenon under investi-
gation; and in the [Fundamental Structure], the researcher
seeks to descriptively disclose the [Fundamental Structure]
of the experiential phenomenon by thoroughly explicating
it; i.e., making explicit what is implicit, and by
precisely articulating its essential structure. In
short, the [Fundamental Description] refers to the essence
of a phenomenon as it is experienced, whereas the
[Fundamental Structure] refers to the essence of an
experiential phenomenon as it is revealed by explication,
i.e., 'the process in which the constituent elements of
a thing are revealed without the addition of new elements.'
(1973, p. 33)

Factor Analytic Method

This section describes the methodology used in arriving at

a factor analytic structure of powerlessness. In summary, the

fundamental description and fundamental structure of powerless-

ness were obtained from the phenomenological investigation. These

results were examined in order to obtain items hypothesized to

constitute the experience of powerlessness. These items were then

made into a questionnaire. Subjects were asked to remember an

experience of powerlessness and taken through verbal guided

imagery to help them to re-experience the situation vividly.

Then the questionnaire was administered to them. The results

of the questionnaire were factor analyzed and the factors

constituting the structure of powerlessness obtained.


Criteria for subjects included availability, familiarity with

tasks involving imagery, facility with written tasks (specifically

questionnaires), and ideally a geographic distribution. On the

basis of these criteria it was decided to use undergraduate

students at the University of Florida. Students taking Psychology

201 were used, and assumed to be representative of the undergraduate

population at the university. To further randomize the volunteer

population, students in Behavioral Science classes were asked

to take the questionnaire as a group. Over 96% of students

requested in this manner participated. The total number of subjects

was 194; of these, 88 were male and 106 female. Behavioral Science

courses provided 74 subjects, 117 were psychology students, and 3

were other undergraduates. Subjects ranged in age from 17 to 50;

the man age was 19.9, and 169 subjects were between 18 and 22. There

were 150 subjects from Florida and 43 from other parts of the country.

There were 107 subjects from large cities (over 100,000), 65 from

smaller towns (20,000-100,000), and 19 from rural areas (under 20,000).

One hundred forty-nine of the subjects were run in groups ranging from

20-30; the other 45 were run individually. Twenty-two subjects were

run twice at the same task with a 14 day interval for test-retest



The experimenter was a 26 year old, white male graduate

student in psychology. All subjects were run by the same experimenter.


The instrument was a 45 item questionnaire (see Appendix 1),

consisting of 33 items based on the results of the phenomenological

research, plus 12 "dummy" items. The 33 items were assumed to

be constituents of powerless experiencing. The items were chosen

by first examining the phenomenological results and breaking them

down into separate statements about powerlessness. These statements

were then examined and hypothetical constructs obtained which

would possibly be the factors obtained in the analysis. There

were originally 8 hypothetical factors: Emotionality, Altered

State of Experiencing, Out of Control, Resolution, Attribution

of Responsibility, Search for Alternatives, The Body, Cognitive

Components, Action Taken, and Importance of Projects. Upon

further examination, Resolution and Attribution of Responsibility

were eliminated as being tautological (items for each merely

listed the logical possibilities and stated that one would be

followed). The Body was eliminated for lack of test items.

Cognitive Components, Action Taken and Importance of Projects

were combined into other factors, leaving 3 factors remaining:

Emotionality, Altered State of Experiencing, and Out of Control.

Upon examination of the first construct (Emotionality), it

appeared that there were four emotions that seemed distinct:

anger, depression, isolation, and worthlessness (dis-affirmation).

As these might or might not cluster together, they were considered

separate factors, with a possible second order factor of emotion-


Using, then, each of the six resultant factors, items were

selected from the statements originally generated that hypothetically

would load on them. Further items were generated, when necessary,

to give an adequate number for each factor. For instance,

synonyms for anger (rage, hostility) were incorporated into the

questionnaire. Appendix 2 details the questionnaire items and

hypothesized constructs.

The items were all expressed as unipolar constructs.

Several items could have been bipolar, but others were only

unipolar, so the choice was made to consider all in the same

way for consistency. A 7 point Likert scale was used for each


Further, 12 items were included as dummy items in order

to test for discriminant validity. Following the construction

of the questionnaire, it was decided that the most appropriate

way to insert dummy items to have them fit in with the rest of the

questionnaire was to insert additional adjectives. Adjectives

were chosen that measured another construct which should not

correlate with powerlessness. Using Gough's (1965) Adjective

Check List, adjectives which measured liability were chosen.

From the liability scale, words were selected which either would

probably be answered equally "yes" and "no" (e.g., forgiving)

and words which would most probably be answered "no" in a power-

less experience (e.g., enthusiastic). (See Appendix 3)


A group of subjects (or individual subject) was asked to

participate in the study. Subjects were briefly told of the pur-

pose of the study, i.e., to investigate the similarities and

differences in the way people experience being powerless, and

then asked to sign a "consent" form (agreeing to participate

in the study). They were also told that a more full explanation

of the study and results would be given them, if they liked, at

the end of the experiment. Subjects were then asked to think

about a specific time when they felt powerless. They were

told that no definition of the term could be given (as that

was the end goal of the experiment), but that the experience

should be a concrete situation that happened at a specific

time (rather than a long term process), and one which they

could remember clearly. Subjects, if they desired, were also

given examples of situations which others had chosen. (These

examples were ones which seemed to encompass the different

types given previously.)

After thinking of a situation, subjects were asked to try

and remember it as vividly as they could and were given the

following instructions:

Try to remember first about how you got into the
situation. Did you get yourself into it? Was
another person responsible? or was it an act of
fate? How did you feel towards other people
involved in the situation? Were there others
"caught" in it,.too? bystanders? people respon-
sible? How did you feel towards each? More
generally, what feelings did you have? One or
many? Strong or in the background? Can you
remember specifically what they were? What
about your thoughts were there a lot of them
in your head? What were they about? Did the
situation come upon you quickly (like a surprise)
or did you know it was going to happen? What
did you do? What did others do? What did you
try to do? Did you perceive things differently
at the time for instance, did time seem to go
by fast? slow? How about the end of the experience?
Did it ever end? Are you still stuck in it? If it
did end, did it end cleanly? quickly? or didit
sort of hang on? Did you get yourself out of it
or did someone else help?

Following these instructions, the questionnaires were

handed out. Subjects were asked to write a sentence or two

describing the experience so that the experimenter could under-

stand what they had gone through before the subjects completed

the questionnaire. (This was done for 170 of the subjects.)

Subjects were told certain definitions of words which others

had indicated were unclear (e.g., thwarted, dis-affirmed,

reflective) and invited to ask about other unclear words.

After the questionnaire was filled out, subjects were offered

the opportunity of asking questions about the research.

For the 22 subjects run twice, the experimenter asked the

first 12 men and 12 women to be run individually if they would

like to answer some more questions about powerlessness in two

weeks. All of them said yes (although 2 did not return). Fourteen

days after the first trial they were allowed to review what

they had written about the experience (although not the answers

to the questionnaire) and then given the questionnaire a second

time to fill out.


The data were analysed as follows: Demographic data were

obtained from the end of the questionnaire (age, residence, etc.)

and totalled. The brief statement of the experience was classi-

fied as either (a) a physical situation (being physically power-

less); (b) not purely or primarily physical; or (c) unknown.

Answers to the questions, sex, classification of the experience,

and test versus retest were put on computer cards.

Correlations (Pearson, Spearman, Kendall) were obtained

between each of the 45 questionnaire items. The data for the

194 subjects (excluding retest data) were factor analyzed, first

without rotation, and then using the varimax orthogonall) rotation,

and plots of the factors (Factor 1 against Factor 2, etc.) obtained.

The factor analyses were repeated two more times for reliability,

first excluding the dummy items, and then using a high cut-off

Eigenvalue (to reduce the number of factors retained). Analyses of

subsets of the data were performed two ways. Data were first analyzed

by sex. Secondly, on the basis of a short two sentence description of

the experience subjects were requested to put on the bottom of the

questionnaires, situations were divided into purely physical power-

lessness and "other" situations. Analyses were performed on each of

these sets of protocols separately. Each factor analysis was done

first without rotation and then using the varimax rotation. Eigenvalues

for the factors to be retained were chosen (except for the high Eigen-

value solution) at 1.0 (approximate cumulative share of accounted for

variance being 66%).

For test-retest reliability, the answers to items loading on

Factor 1 after rotation (the major factor) were totalled and correlated

for the 22 subjects between their tests and retests.



To obtain data for the phenomenological investigation, protocols

were obtained using the format described above. These descriptions

of the experience of powerlessness were obtained both by myself and

by students of mine. They were obtained from the investigator him-

self (introspective protocols), and from other subjects. Subjects

ranged in age from late teens to fifties, and the experiences of

powerlessness were quite varied. The result was 49 protocols of

the experience of powerlessness. There were also 18 initial phenomen-

ological analyses of protocols prepared by my students.

The present investigation started with my reading and re-

reading the initial 49 protocols to get a sense of the situations

that were experienced as powerless and some initial feel for the

quality of the experiences. The analyses were also read and re-read;

six shed some light on the phenomenon for me. Twelve protocols were

selected for the final analysis. Two of these were my own protocols,

five were from other subjects which I obtained, and five were obtained

by my students.

To best present these data and their analysis, this chapter is

organized as follows: First, one sample protocol is presented, along

with its analysis. All of the steps in the analysis described in the

last chapter are presented in order that the reader can follow the

steps and rationale in the analysis. In order for the reader to have

an opportunity to see the other data and the results of the data

analyses, several other protocols are then presented. Since the full

analysis (complete with all the intermediate steps) would be extensive

reading, only the protocols and fundamental situated descriptions

obtained from it are presented. (Intermediate levels of analysis

are available from the author.)

Following this is a section in which the reflections leading to

the fundamental general description are discussed. These, while not

comprising all the thoughts and reflections I went through, do

detail some of the major commonalities and differences observed

between the protocols, and ways in which they were combined in the

general description.

Following the presentation of my reflections and the subsequent

fundamental general description, one further step is made. The

description is subjected to further analysis and reflection to obtain

the fundamental structure of powerlessness.

The protocols that are presented are taken from among the 12 that

I did formal analyses of. The original 48 protocols described power-

less situations from people who ranged from their teens to fifties,

from lower socio-economic to upper middle class, from unemployed per-

sons, students and successful professionals, involving situations

that included being a prisoner, being arrested, being in an out of

control car or being swept out to sea, the death or illness of a

loved one, being ordered to do things by authorities or parents,

etc. Thus, a wide range of potential subjects and situations were


From these, I took my 12 protocols, and selected them on the

basis of several criteria. First was that a range of different types

of powerless situations was demonstrated. To do this, situations

were chosen that included "acts of fate" as well as ones the subject

could have averted, ones that happened quickly and ones which took

some time, ones that "objectively" seemed important and ones which

seemed trivial, and ones in which the subject was "psychologically"

versus "physically" restrained. Second, a range in subjects was

preferred. Thus, subjects were both male and female, ranging in

age from 18 to 50. Third, the protocols were ones which spoke to

me, the researcher, easily. That is, they were descriptions which were

both concrete and fairly succinct, that identified the situations,

emotions and thoughts the person had, which seemed clearly to be

powerless situations, and which seemed coherent and understandable to

me. One final criterion was that protocols were preferred from

subjects who were available; thus, the fundamental descriptions were

checked out with the subjects after they were performed (as was the

general description), and any further questions about the protocols

were able to be asked.

As with most research, the different criteria had to be compromised

with each other in the selection of data presented above. Thus, al-

though originally protocols included those of lower class prisoners,

for the sake of protocol coherence and completeness and subject

availability, none of these are included here. Similarly, some of

the better protocols for coherence are not presented in the interests

ofhaving a fairly diverse sample. The result was a fairly repre-

sentative sampling of the protocols that I originally read and were

analyzed by me and my students.


Sample Data Analysis

The following protocol was written by the experimenter in

January 1977. The analysis is presented along with comments and

reflections. It is presented somewhat repetitively, with Levels

A and B on one page, Levels B and C on the next, etc. This is done

in order that the reader might most easily follow the changes from

one level of analysis to the next.


This morning I got up and when I looked out the window, I
noticed that someone had snapped off and bent around the antenna
on my car. (To give some background, I was at a friend's house for
the week in Boston. When I visited her the last time for a weekend
someone snapped off the antenna on my car.) When I looked out I im-
mediately thought, "Oh no. This couldn't have happened again." I
looked to be sure I had seen it right. I was overwhelmed with a
feeling of powerlessness I felt that I couldn't do anything;
that nothing I could do would stop these hoodlums from ripping my
car apart. I felt tremendously frustrated, and the more I thought
about it, the more enraged I got at the perpetrators of this. I
felt that my space had been violated in some important way. This
was mine my car that I worked hard to get and worked hard to
keep, and there was nothing I could do to keep these people from
vandalizing it. I felt enraged at whoever did it. I imagined young
kids ("Goddamned hoodlums" was what I thought at the time) who were
just out for kicks and vandalizing property. I wished that I would
have been awake when they did it. I fantasized having a gun and
shooting them with it, and I felt more enraged and powerless that
this fantasy could not come true, that at most I could see them do it
and run after them, and in my fantasy they would get away. I wanted
to destroy something, hit someone, and I was also mad at the "system"
for not allowing me to have these people that even if caught they
would probably not really be punished. The predominant experience was
of having been personally violated, and not being able to do anything
about it. I walked around outside, looked at my car, and helplessly

looked around for something to vent my anger and rage at. I
ended up shoveling snow for a while, and that really didn't make
me feel any better.
Although I don't think is connected directly to feeling power-
less, I also felt guilty that I would want to shoot these kids, and
I felt that I shouldn't be so attached. I thought, "What's a
$6.00 antenna, anyway? What are you doing being so upset at it?"
I was still angry, but succeeded in mixing this with some guilt.
After a couple of hours passed (I started talking to my
friend and doing something else after this and so didn't think
about it much) and I started thinking about it again, I realized that
I would go to the store and pay $3.00 or $5.00 and with one screw
replace the antenna. Then it bothered me as a matter of principle
but I didn't feel as involved with it.

Question: Did the initial $6.00 and four hours represent a lot
of trouble for you?
Answer: Yes, definitely. I had to go to a lot of trouble to
replace it I had to go to the store and figure out which
type of antenna was the right one, and I also was without
a radio for the trip back to D.C.

Question: Did you have any particular sense of the passage of time?
Answer: When I first saw the antenna, time seemed to stop. Every-
thing slowed down, and it was as if either I or everything else
or both were in molasses everything flowed very slowly. This
continued as I looked at the car the slowness seemed to go
along with a sense of unreality about the situation. As I
become angrier and angrier, time seemed to resume its normal
course events seemed to move along faster.

[These two questions at the end were points which I had not focused

on when writing the protocol originally. However, in re-reading it,

and reflecting on it, I realized a need for clarification on those

points. In general, in gathering protocols, I added questions to

the original accounts when certain things (such as the passage of time

or the resolution of the situation) seemed unclear.]


The first level of analysis (as described above) is the level of

meaning units. In this, each separate word, thought or phrase that

embodied and communicated a separate thought to me was separated into

a meaning unit. Insofar as possible, the original language of the

protocol was retained in this level only upon further reflection

was wording changed and deleted (in order to avoid missing meanings

contained in the description). In the second (B) level, the meaning

units in the A level are examined and repetitive elements are com-

bined, and elements which have nothing to do with powerlessness are

deleted. Rationales for these steps are given in brackets.

Level A Analysis
Meaning Units

la This morning I got up and
when I looked out the win-
dow I noticed that some-
one had snapped off and
bent around the antenna
of my car.

2a To give some background,
I was at a friend's house
for the week in Boston.

3a When I visited her the
last time for a weekend,
someone snapped off my
car antenna,

4a and I spent about $6.00 and
four hours putting a new
antenna on my car.

5a When I looked out I immed-
iately thought, "Oh no,
this couldn't have happened

6a I looked to be sure I had
seen it right.

7a I was overwhelmed with a
feeling of powerlessness.

Level B Analysis

Ib S notices that someone has
snapped off and bent around
the antenna of his car. [note
the change from "I" to "S";
factors of time of day and
looking out the window do not
seem important]

2b S was at a friend's house.

3b The last time he was there,
someone had snapped off his
car antenna.

[combined with #34]

5b Upon seeing it he immediately
thought, "Oh no. This couldn't
have happened again."

6b S looked to be sure he had seen
it right.

7b S was overwhelmed with a feeling
of powerlessness.

8a I felt that I couldn't do
anything; that nothing I
could do would stop these
hoodlums from ripping my
car apart.

9a I felt remendously frus-

10a and the more I thought about
it, the more enraged I got
at the perpetrators of

lla I felt that my space had
in some important way been

12a This was mine my car -
hat I worked hard to get
and worked hard to keep,

13a and there was nothing I
could do to keep these
people from vandalizing it.

14a I felt enraged at whoever
did it.

15a I imagined young kids
("Goddamned hoodlums" was
what I thought at the time)
who were just out for kicks
and vandalizing property.

16a I fantasized having a gun
and shooting them with it,

17a and I felt more enraged
and powerless that this
fantasy could not come

18a that at most I could see
them do it and run after
them, and in my fantasy
they would get away.

19a I wanted to destroy some-

8b S felt that he could do nothing;
There was nothing he could do
to stop these hoodlums from van-
dalizing his car. [also from

9b S felt tremendously frustrated
and enraged. [also from #14a]

10b The more he thought about it,
the more enraged he got at the

llb He felt that his space had been
violated in some important way.
[also from #22a]

12b His car was his; he worked hard
to get and keep it.

[combined with #8b]

[combined with #9b]

15b He imagined young kids goddamned
hoodlums just out for kicks
and vandalizing property.

16b He fantasized having a gun and
shooting them with it.

17b He felt enraged and powerless
that this fantasy could not
come true.

18b At most he could run after them
if he saw them, and he fantasized
they would get away even then.

19b He wanted to destroy something

20a or hit someone

21a and I was also mad at the
"system" for not allowing
me to have these people -
that even if caught they
would probably not really
be punished.

22a The predominant experience
was of having been person-
ally violated,

23a and not being able to do
anything about it.

24a I walked around outside,
looked at my car,

25a and helplessly looked
around for something to
vent my anger and rage at.

26a I ended up shoveling snow
for a while,

27a and that really didn't make
me feel any better.

28a Although I don't think this
is connected directly to
feeling powerless, I also
felt guilty that I would
want to shoot these kids,
and I felt that I shouldn't
be so attached. I thought,
"What's a $6.00 antenna,
anyway? Why are you so
upset about it?"

29a I still felt angry, but suc-
ceeded in mixing this with
some guilt.

30a After a couple of hours
passed, I started talking
to my friend and doing some-
thing else after this, so
I didn't think about it

20b or hit someone.

21b He was also mad at the system
for not allowing him to punish
them (if he caught them) or
punishing them itself.

[combined with #11b]

[combined with #8]


25b S helplessly looked around for
something to vent his anger and
rage at.

26b S shoveled snow for a while
[which seemed unsatisfactory]

27b That didn't make him feel any

[deleted using imaginative
variation the experience was
considered without this guilt
and no substantial difference
was found]


30b S started talking to his friend
and did something else for a
couple of hours.

31a I started thinking about
it again and I realized
that I would go to the
store and pay $3.00 or
$5.00 and with one screw
replace the antenna.

32a Then it bothered me as a
matter of principle, but
I didn't feel so involved
with it.

33a [The first time the antenna
was ripped off] I had to go
to a lot of trouble to
replace it I had to go to
the store and figure out
which type of antenna was
the right one, and I also
was without a radio for the
trip back from Boston to D.C.

34a When I first saw the antenna
time seemed to stop. Every-
thing slowed down, and it
was as if either I or every-
thing else or both were in
molasses everything flowed
very slowly. This continued
as I looked at the car.

35a The slowness seemed to go
along with a sense of un-
reality about the situation.

36a As I become angrier and
angrier, time seemed to
resume its normal course -
events seemed to more along

31b When he started thinking about
the situation again, he realized
he would go to the store and pay
$3.00 or $5.00 and replace the
antenna with one screw.

32b It still bothered him as a matter
of principle, but he didn't feel
as emotionally involved with it.

33b The first time the antenna was
ripped off, S went to a lot of
trouble to replace it, going to
the store, finding the right one,
and being without a radio for
the trip home. [combined with

34b When S first saw the antenna,
time seemed to stop. Everything
slowed down, and it was as if
either/both he and/or everything
else was in molasses everything
flowed very slowly. This continued
as he looked at the car.

35b The slowness seemed to go along
with a sense of unreality about
the situation.

36b As he became angrier, time seemed
to resume its normal course -
events seemed to more along

In the next (C) level of analysis, the themes are explicated. In

the theme level, each meaning unit is questioned for its meaning for

the experience of powerlessness. In reflection we ask, what is sig-

nificant about the subject's "helplessly looking around for something

to vent his anger and rage at?" In this case, the general significance

of this is that the subject's alternative courses of satisfying

action seemed to receed and disappear. The B level is also pre-

sented for easy comparison.

Level B Analysis

lb S notices that someone has
snapped off and bent around
the antenna of his car.

2b S was at a friend's house.

3b The last time he was there
someone had snapped off the
car antenna.

5b Upon seeing it he immedi-
ately thought, "Oh no.
This couldn't have hap-
pened again."

6b S looked to be sure he had
seen it right.

7b S was overwhelmed with a
feeling of powerlessness.

8b S felt that he could do
nothing; there was nothing
he could do to stop these
hoodlums from vandalizing
his car.

9b S felt tremendously frus-
trated and enraged.

10b The more he thought about
it the more enraged he got
at the perpetrators.

lib lie felt that his space had
been in some important way

12b His car was his; he worked
hard to get and keep it.

Level C Analysis

Ic S realizes that a possession
of his which he values has
been vandalized.

2c S was not at-home.

3c There was a repeatable nature
to the phenomenon.

5c S couldn't believe that it had
happened; the situation was in
some sense unreal.

[same as #5c]

7c As S realized the situation he
felt powerless.

8c S felt powerless in the sense
that he could do nothing to
prevent the situation.

9c S felt tremendously frustrated
and enraged.

10c In thinking more, the rage increased.

llc S perceived the situation as
a violation of his space.

[combined with #1c]

15b He imagined young kids -
Goddamned hoodlums just
out for kicks and vandal-
izing property.

16b He fantasized having a gun
and shooting them with it.

17b He felt enraged and power-
less that this fantasy could
not come true.

18b At most he could run
them if he saw them,
fantasized that they
get away even then.

and he

19b He wanted to destroy some-

20c Or hit someone.

21b He was also mad at the sys-
tem for not allowing him to
punish them if he caught them
or punish them itself.

25b S helplessly looked around
for something to vent his
anger and rage at.

26b S shoveled snow for a while.

27b This didn't make him feel
any better.

30b S talked to his friend and
did something else for a
couple of hours.

[combined with #16c]

16c The malicious nature of the
act enraged him more; he res-
ponded with fantasies of
harming the perpetrators.

17c The unrealistic nature of the
subject's proposed course of
action grounded possibilities
of his feeling more powerless
and enraged. [combined with

[combined with #17c]

[combined with #20c]

20c S felt a bursting out in a more
or less directionless manner.
[combined with #19c & 20c]

[combined with #20c]

25c Possibilities of action/reaction
seemed to foreclose to the

26c A purely "physical" solution
was sought which would "get
his mind" off the situation;
this did not succeed. [combined
with #27b]

[combined with #26c]

30c S again attempts to "get his
mind" off the situation by
doing other things.

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