Power is, to put it as simple as possible, the ability to influence the behavior and actions of other people to get what one wants. That is, when someone has power, that person is capable of getting what they want by any means, even if it means using other people against their will, or if the things they want to achieve are morally or legally questionable. One example of someone imposing their power on another person is the relationship between Mr. Miyagi and Daniel, the two main characters from the 1984 American movie The Karate Kid. The goal of this case study is to examine how Mr. Miyagi manages to influence Daniel to do what he wants and what are the sources of his power over Daniel.
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First and foremost, it is necessary to list and describe all the different sources of power. According to J.P.R. French and B. Raven, there are six of those: legitimate, coercive, reward, information, expert, and referent (French & Raven, 254). Legitimate power is the one that derives from a person’s official status or position (Organizational Behavior, 12). For instance, the CEO of a big corporation holds a large amount of legitimate power. Next, there are reward and coercive powers, which are closely tied together while being antithetical to each other. Reward power is the ability to encourage other people to comply, using methods like increasing the salary or giving a promotion (Organizational Behavior, 13). Conversely, coercive power is meant to discourage noncompliance through the people’s fear of punishment (Organizational Behavior, 14). Examples include parents grounding their children, being fired from the job, or suffering physically. Expert power is dependent upon a person’s experience and knowledge (Organizational Behavior, 14). The oldest and the most experienced members of an organization often possess such kind of power. Information power is similar to expert power, except that it comes from people’s ability to access information, as opposed to their own qualities (Organizational Behavior, 15). Finally, there is referent power which means being able to evoke respect and devotion from other people (Organizational Behavior, 16). For that reason, referent power is often synonymous with charisma.
Now that all the sources of power have been covered, it is time to see which ones Mr. Miyagi uses to influence his apprentice, Daniel. In the movie, Mr. Miyagi decides to teach Daniel karate using seemingly very unorthodox methods. (The Karate Kid, 1984) Namely, he assigns various menial jobs to Daniel, such as waxing cars, painting a fence, and so on. (The Karate Kid, 1984) The fact that Daniel, while being initially incredulous of Mr. Miyagi’s unusual methods and stern regulations, abides by them completely without expecting any reward or payment means that Mr. Miyagi does indeed hold a considerable amount of power over Daniel. As for the sources of this power, Mr. Miyagi works as a maintenance man for an apartment complex (The Karate Kid, 1984); therefore, he is qualified to assign various kinds of manual work to Daniel, meaning that he does have legitimate power over him. Secondly, reward power is out of the question: for Daniel, the only reward he can reasonably expect is learning some karate skills when his training is complete. Conversely, coercive power is clearly at work: Mr. Miyagi threatens punishment if Daniel does not follow his instructions. Indeed, when Daniel refuses to continue with his training thinking that Mr. Miyagi simply exploits him, the latter attacks Daniel, which incidentally makes him realize that all the previous menial tasks gave him the muscle memory he used to defend himself. (The Karate Kid, 1984) Further, Mr. Miyagi exhibits expert power over Daniel as well, considering that he is a lot older and more experienced than Daniel, being a karate master and a veteran of World War II. Finally, Daniel is fascinated by Mr. Miyagi’s karate skills, which he displayed while protecting Daniel from bullies; therefore, referent power is present as well. This power grew even stronger when Miyagi shared the story about the loss of his wife and a newborn son.
To summarize, The Karate Kid gives a clear example how a person can use their power to influence someone else, as well as showing how one source of power can be replaced by other sources as the relationship grows between two people. Mr. Miyagi exhibits four main types of power: legitimate, coercive, expert and referent. As the bond between Mr. Miyagi and Daniel grew, the coercive power weakened, while referent power increased and took its place.
French, John R.P., and Raven, Bertram. “The Bases of Social Power”, Group Dynamics, edited by D. Cartwright & A. Zander, New York: Harper and Row, 1960.
Organizational Behavior. University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing, 2010.
The Karate Kid. Directed by John G. Avildsen, performance by Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita. Columbia Pictures, 1984.