Domhoff: The Class-Domination Theory of Power

I was not sure if should write on the first, second or third link, or all three, so I will discuss the first link in detail which is the Class-Domination Theory of Power. As Domhoff goes into detail about, it is hard to pin point one certain definition of power, and even one true definition does not show how power should be measured in quantity. Never-the-less, the upper class in the United States hold the power, have always held the power, and will continue to hold the power unless a radical social change takes place. One quote I found to be very helpful was when Domhoff stated that “Domination by the few does not mean complete control, but rather the ability to set the terms under which other groups and classes must operate.” In the United States, some people are offended by the fact that the rich hold the power. This is America, power is held by the people for the people. Or so we are led to believe. The upper class has kept the power for so long, they believe they are elite now and are the rightful owners of power. They benefit, so they govern, and ultimately “win”. I have to wonder though if the rich are really setting social norms as well as economic norms for the lower class. Dealing with the economy and income, the rich certainly do make it hard for lower class people to succeed, but socially I feel like each group has grown to have its own social norms. This has happened because the upper class in the United States has different goals than the lower class, so there is not one universal goal even though both groups strive to achieve it. The goals and norms of the lower class and upper class have gotten so far apart because rich people live and are amongst other rich people, while poor people hang out and live amongst other poor people, so there is almost a subculture going on. Such ideas of Domhoff’s as how the upper class feel they are elite and intermingle with other elite folk and the use of class indicators to tell rich from poor, remind me of relative deprivation. When the rich hang out with the rich and look down on the lower class, and when the lower class hang out with other lower class people all looking down on the upper class, values of each group start to drift further and further apart. Soon each “group” has their own set of values and norms making it very hard to change groups or accept each other. Why would anyone of the upper class want to help or walk in the shoes of someone in the lower class? Social control can never be changed when values and norms of each class has grown so distant.

The upper class controls the economy through the corporate community. As Domhoff says, the corporate leaders create a sense of unity through interlocking directors, where the same guys are on different boards making decisions. They feel unity because they have common goals, common educational backgrounds and family experiences. Anyone of the lower class would be in awe at their way of life I’m sure. Domhoff feels that corporate leaders and the upper class show a disconnection though, because CEO’s of major corporations did not always start off as billionaires, but worked their way up. I have to think that they did not start off as black lesbian women though either, because not all opportunities are the same institutionally in America. Some start off better than others just by race and gender. The working class, where some of the CEO’s supposedly started out, is structured in such a way to keep the working class down. Through policing, and community organization and government policies it is hard for the working class to keep working, let alone move up through the social ranks. Unions used to be great, not so much anymore though. Power is not in the hands of the working class at all. The American Dream is supposed to be that if you work hard, you can make a good life for yourself, but because of social constraints the American Dream is nearly impossible for minorities and lower class people to achieve. The policing in communities focuses on street crime instead of white collar crime. This puts a giant target on the backs of working class Americans and lets the upper class know they are able to get away with anything. Incarceration instead of rehabilitation is another factor keeping the working class down. Recidivism rates are through the roof because why give criminals a chance? They are not elite and do not deserve a chance, just lock them up. This sort of attitude has kept the upper class in control.

Obviously, Domhoff hits on the point that government policy is shaped from outside the government because that is a huge factor in keeping the upper class upper and the lower class lower. Tax laws and policing are really biased towards helping the rich or white collar workers, but Domhoff is also stating how the policy planning network, or the people who decide what is important and how to fix it, makes sure to look at some ideas and not at others. I find it so interesting how in my high school government class we talked about how policies make it through and get enforced, but somehow our teachers overlooked the big white elephant in the room. Not until I got into college did I start to open my eyes about the upper class in government seeing some issues and turning their heads away from other issues. I just assumed that our government was here to help every citizen and did things for the common good of everyone, not just people with money. It is people in Congress and other sectors of government that decides which parties disagree, what they disagree about, and how to “solve” the disagreements or problems. The public never gets to see the actual decision-making process on issues the public chooses. Something would be being done about some of the issues the people involved with Occupy Wall Street have if the public actually got to decide which issues were being discussed.

I like how Domhoff does have a distinction between the power elite and just members of the upper class because even though I tend to classify all upper class to be attached to a negative stigma, I am becoming part of the problem and separating people when we are all Americans and could be working towards the same goal. Anyways, Domhoff uses a venn-diagram to visually show how the social upper class, the corporate community and policy planning network are all intertwined. With our recent discussions of unhelpful venn-diagrams in class, I am not exactly sure if this one is totally effective or not, but I couldn’t think of a better way to draw it, so it is visually stimulating none-the-less. Now members of the social elite and business owners complain about the government they essential have control over. I had never thought it was actually part of the plan to keep the lower class grounded though. Some big-wigs think that since the power is held by the “people” that someday these people of the majority could actually take over, so it is not OK to flaunt your power. Overall, I can not say I fully agree with Domhoff’s theory, but it did have some pressing arguments and gave a viewpoint that should be respected.


Posted on November 14, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I agree with the idea that the theory of power and that America has let the upper social class handle most of the money in today’s society. On a side note: This could be one of the very reason with our economy is becoming worst with these huge bailouts and these upper class politicians, activists, and party leaders urging changes of rules that benefits themselves and their money not the rest of society. Ironically I also agree with you pointing out Domhoff idea about how “people who work in the factories and fields were divided from the outset into free and slave, white and black, and later into numerous immigrant ethnic groups as well, making it difficult for workers as a whole to unite politically to battle for higher wages and better social benefits. For this reason the people with the money gain power over the working class and allows certain rules or laws to be made the keep these individuals below them and powerless. On the other hand when discussing ideas about leftist or other party’s along the political spectrum share lots of opinions, exposed others with lies about both parties, and the truth is almost always untold. In these types of argument your judgment is always best. I agree with the fact that Domhoff makes a very clear distinction of who he considers or haves power and the people who doesn’t and suffer many different affects, such lower social economic status, less wages, and being a slave.

  2. I I also believe that Domhoff made a very good points about thing that we as a society go through, I cant say wether I fully agree with every thing Domhoff pointed out but I do think a lot of it makes sense but just as Foucault more evidence, i mean visible evidences with the documents that explains things that operates our government some of the political decisions made behind closed doors, the true reason for war, gun laws, education acts such as no child left behind. the design of poverty and the way it is designed to keep minorities down. and if we really want to talk about the meat of information what about the created secret societies of America that most of our prominent historical figure belonged too.

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