A Comment on Value Structures, Power-Content Interaction Theory, and the Measurement of Social Power

Stewart W. Bither, The Pennsylvania State University
ABSTRACT - The purpose of this paper is to review three studies presented under the session title Psychological Contributions. In fact the papers range from a psychological through a social psychological to a sociological perspective. As one might suspect from these perspectives, the papers are really quite unrelated. Each does present an interesting and perhaps provocative idea. Each also represents exploratory type research which is in keeping with conference goals of encouraging discussion of new research directions. Due to the lack of common theme among the papers it seems appropriate to review each separately and comment about future directions in terms of the distinct area each paper represents.
[ to cite ]:
Stewart W. Bither (1979) ,"A Comment on Value Structures, Power-Content Interaction Theory, and the Measurement of Social Power", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 06, eds. William L. Wilkie, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 353-354.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 1979      Pages 353-354

A COMMENT ON VALUE STRUCTURES, POWER-CONTENT INTERACTION THEORY, AND THE MEASUREMENT OF SOCIAL POWER

Stewart W. Bither, The Pennsylvania State University

ABSTRACT -

The purpose of this paper is to review three studies presented under the session title Psychological Contributions. In fact the papers range from a psychological through a social psychological to a sociological perspective. As one might suspect from these perspectives, the papers are really quite unrelated. Each does present an interesting and perhaps provocative idea. Each also represents exploratory type research which is in keeping with conference goals of encouraging discussion of new research directions. Due to the lack of common theme among the papers it seems appropriate to review each separately and comment about future directions in terms of the distinct area each paper represents.

VALUE STRUCTURES

The paper "Value Structures and Consumer Behavior" by Gutman and Vinson begins with the statement that personal value systems play an important role in consumer behavior. The central proposition of the paper is that the explanatory power of the value construct has been limited by over-simplified conceptualizations of value structure and by cumbersome instruments for measuring the structure. Specifically Gutman and Vinson state that we must go beyond the basic research conceptualization of an interconnected structure of values with a central-peripheral dimensionality. They suggest "a more adequate system would be one in which some values are seen as more consistent with one another to the effect that the same behaviors are instrumental in achieving them." They further quote Williams (1968) in noting that "...particular acts or sequences of acts are steered by multiple and changing clusters of values."

This appears to be a viable and potentially productive way of conceptualizing values in that different behavior may be seen as relating to different clusters of value. Thus, depending upon the situation any two values may be viewed as consistent in that the behavior will likely be instrumental in achieving them both, contrary in that achieving one will lead to blocking achievement of the other, or they may be viewed as totally independent in the context. Unfortunately, the methodology utilized in the research does not allow us to examine full scope of the relationships posited.

In the study a generalized perceptual map was constructed using dissimilarity measures taken from pairs of values from Rokeach's terminal values scales (Rokeach, 1968). In addition, instrumentality ratings of ten different behaviors for achieving or blocking each of the values were obtained. The behavior measures were then related to the generalized value map using direction cosines. The authors indicate that the INDSCAL solution in three dimensions results in a disappointing 36% variance accounted for and stress values are not give. More importantly, the basic perspectives that values may be viewed as consistent, opposed, or independent in terms of behavior is not tested by this methodology. In order to make such a test dissimilarity scales could be administered in the context of specific behaviors in order to compare the resultant preference spaces. Alternatively, a variety of experimental designs can be envisaged in which different behaviors could be related to clusters of values using relatively simple scaling procedures.

POWER-CONTENT INTERACTION THEORY

The paper "Deviant Consumer Behavior: A Different View" by Mills and Bonoma suggests a theoretical perspective for understanding consumer deviant behavior. Deviant behavior is described by the authors as socially unacceptable behavior such as destructive behavior in the retail institution and all types of consumer fraud. The theoretical perspective is based upon the authors belief that consumers modify their behavior in response "...to messages contained in store 'image' manipulation." The authors suggest that stores can be classified into three conceptual categories which differ in terms of power, conflict, cooperation and trust implications for patrons. This conceptualization follows Bonoma's (1976) classification of social power into three context specific categories: unilateral, bilateral and group welfare.

The authors speculate that deviant behavior will be greatest when the store is seen as having unilateral power and least as the power base moves beyond the bilateral stages to the group welfare state. They believe that stores will be perceived as being powerful to the extent they are larger, have more branches, have greater sales volume, advertise more and cater to upper class groups. A final hypothesis suggests that image may be modified and deviant behavior rates changed by manipulating store image.

The study consisted of two parts. The first, an "archival" study which showed that large stores had a greater percentage of stock shortages then did small stores. The second part comprised a study in which scenarios representing the three conceptual categories were presented to undergraduate and graduate students who were asked the degree to which they believed deviant behavior would take place in each.

The conceptual base for this study is fascinating and the work on alienation would support some of the hypothesis base. In addition, there is a certain amount of face validity to the hypothesis base. Who has not experienced the utter frustration of fighting the bureaucracy in a large retail institution when there has been a foul up in computer billing or when other problems have occurred and I dare say that fleeting thoughts of fraud or worse have occurred to us all.

The study is very much an exploratory one and has served the purpose of raising a few alternative explanations which must be eliminated in future studies. The authors undoubtedly would be first to admit that attributions about deviant behavior made by university graduate (and undergraduate) students do not constitute a strong support base for their hypotheses. Even if this were not the case, the scenarios used in the study are problematic. Different kinds of retail institutions e.g., a large department store versus an automobile dealership, represent different levels of opportunity to engage in various kinds of consumer fraud. Thus, the judgment that individuals might engage in fraud due to differentials in perceived power must be somehow tempered by the relative opportunity to engage in fraudulent activities across institution. A second problem with the scenarios is that by describing location and facilities of the department stores it is likely that respondents made some judgment about who the customers might be and attributed the likelihood of fraud not to the power base of the store but to the perceived age or socio-economic status of the customer base of the store. To the extent possible, these sources of alternative explanations should be eliminated in further studies.

In the "archival study" inventory shortages are equated with shoplifting because studies are cited which indicate that 80% of inventory shortages are due to theft. While shoplifting may be a large part of the theft, certainly employee theft and other non-consumer theft must constitute some part of the shortages. In addition, this part of the study is open to many reasonable explanations which are alternative to the power base one. Large retail institutions are more difficult to control, large retail institutions are often located in large cities where alienation levels many differ from smaller cities and so on.

This study demonstrates many of the problems of applying sociological concepts but offers a substantive contribution in terms of the basic constructs developed by the authors. As an exploratory study, it makes steps in the direction of construct clarification and ultimately validation. I found it a pleasure to read and consider the overstatement in both theory and results section of the paper to be a productive challenge for others in the field to become more involved in studying the social context of consumer behavior.

THE MEASUREMENT OF SOCIAL POWER

The paper "Measuring the Bases of Social Power" by Swazy reports an effort to build and validate a scale measuring French and Ravens (1959) six bases of social power. Swazy briefly reviews the power bases; reward, coercive, referent, legitimate expert and information power, and then describes in some detail the scale construction and validation procedures he has undertaken. The scaling procedure used was the Likert scale. A pool of 150 scale items representing various aspects of the power bases was generated by the author and judged by six judges as to its appropriateness to the 6 power bases. From this procedure 85 scale items were selected. Scenarios representing depictions of pure type social power situations were generated in much the same manner. Although it might have been preferable to generate item pools from a panel of judges to gain a more comprehensive pool of power items this is not a major problem.

In the study, 85 final scale items were rated by a sample of 321 undergraduate students. Each student rated all 85 scale items in terms of one of 12 scenarios. Items were selected for the final scale by choosing those with high discriminating power for the scenarios presented. This was accomplished by choosing scales with the highest total common variance with the uni-factor solutions using a factor analytic procedure recommended by McKelvy, 1976. Measures of internal consistency, Cronback's (1951) alpha, were high among the selected scales items.

A test of the discriminating ability of the scales was accomplished by calculating the scores across all scenarios for each of the six three item scales. The statistical procedure used was a one way ANOVA. Newman Kuels tests of mean differences were also presented. In general, the discriminating ability of the scales was good. There appear, however, to be major problems with the legitimate power scale.

This study seems to have been carefully done and the results clearly described. It constitutes an important first step in operationalizing measures for the six social power bases. The study is both exploratory and developmental in that the scale items were selected based upon an intercorrelation matrix derived from the data on which the scales were ultimately tested. The next step would be to test the scales against a different set of power scenarios generated in a manner similar to that described in the paper. This would give us more confidence in the discriminatory ability of the scales.

Additional work needs to be done on deriving an acceptable legitimate power scale. The data suggest that more then one construct may be included in the definition or operationalization of this scale. Concurrently, additional validation work could be undertaken by repeating the factor analytic procedures used in scale constructions on different scenarios in order to get a better measure of reliability and internal scale consistency.

This study appears to be a sound beginning to a more thorough examination of the constructs involved in explicating the social power concept. However, the construct validation process will be a difficult one. I expect we will have great difficulty in identifying "pure" examples of individual social power bases even in contrived laboratory situations. Thus, we may become involved in assessing the degree to which various social power bases are perceived as being present in an environment. If this turns out to be the case, and I consider it likely, then we will need a great deal more work in operationalizing the definitions of the social power bases. The scales developed in this paper discriminate among scenarios chosen to represent pure power base type situations. No attempt at all is made to measure the degree to which a power base is present or absent.

REFERENCES

T. V. Bonoma, "Conflict, Cooperation and Trust in Three Power Systems," Behavioral Science, 21, (1976). 499-514.

Lee J. Cronbach, "Coefficient Alpha and the Internal Structure of Tests," Psychometrika, 16 (1951).

John R. P. French and Bertram Raven, "The Basis of Social Power," in D. Cartwright (ed.) Studies in Social Power (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Institute for Social Research, 1969).

William McKelvy, "An Approach for Developing Shorter and Better Measuring Instruments," Working Paper #76-6, Human Systems Development Study Center, UCLA, 1976.

Milton Rikeach, "A Theory of Organization and Change Within Value-Attitude System," Journal of Social Sciences, 24 (1968), 13-33.

R. M. Williams, International Encyclopedia of the Social Science (New York: Macmillan, 1968), p. 287.

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