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Derived from [Masters2008], Chapter 19, Types of authority

Authority is the right to do something. It is the first of the triumvirate of authority, power, and control.

Establishing authority is the necessary precursor to taking control. Without that authority or right being established, taking control becomes both illegal and abusive.

For example, taking money out of a cash register in a shop is theft unless you have the authority to do so, such as when you own the shop. Likewise, taking a women, tying her up, and then beating her with a stick is physical abuse and assault, unless she is your BDSM partner and has agreed to the activity, in which case it becomes fun and/or profoundly rewarding. Thus from her agreement or consent you acquire the authority to proceed.

Types of authority

There are many different types of authority. This article will focus on four of them:

  • Academic authority - related to what one has learned or what one knows
  • Technical authority - related to what one can do or what skills one has
  • Authority of office - related to a position one holds in a group or organisation
  • Personal authority - related to one's self awareness, understanding, and personal goals

Academic authority

Academic authority is knowledge about a particular field---e.g., BDSM. It may come from having read up on a particular activity, having attended a lecture on the topic, having been on a course, and so on.

Someone who is about to launch themselves into a career as a bondage top extraordinaire, for example, may read books and attend workshops before engaging in tying up their partner for the first time. The knowledge that they gain from this reading and listening is academic knowledge. The actual extent of their academic authority depends on how deep and thorough their studies have been.

It's important to recognise that academic authority doesn't necessarily relate to how well a person can do what they've studied. Someone may be able to talk authoritatively about flogging and aftercare without ever actually having applied either of them.

We can say that academic authority comes from study or non-practical learning, whereas technical authority (see below) comes from doing.

Another interesting point about academic authority is that having a diploma or certificate doesn't automatically grant academic authority. The authority comes from knowing, not from someone giving you a certificate which says you know. There's a difference.

Notably, academic authority, as a form of knowledge, cannot simply be delegated to another person.

Sources of academic authority

Academic authority comes from a number of sources, including:

  • Reading books,
  • Attending workshops and lectures,
  • Discussions with other BDSM practitioners, and
  • Other study.

Technical authority

Technical authority comes from practice and experience. It is the ability to perform a particular activity or exercise competently in a variety of circumstances, particularly in challenging circumstances or with a challenging partner. It is gained from performing the activity frequently, in a wide variety of situations, and with a wide variety of partners.

Technical authority comes only from experience and practice.

Technical authority is also a form of knowledge and it cannot be easily delegated.

Sources of technical authority

  • Experience
  • Exercises

Authority of office

Authority of office is related to a position which someone holds in a group or organisation. The person may be elected or otherwise chosen for the position, and holds the authority of that position or office until another person replaces them or the position is abolished.

For example, the Presidency of The United States of America is an office to which someone is elected. While the person has that office they can exercise the authority and powers of that office, but once their term in office ends they immediately lose all that authority and power and go back to being mere mortals.

Thus, authority of office is not related to knowledge or skill as are academic and technical authority, respectively, but is instead delegated and is effective only when mutually recognised.

Source of authority of office

The source of this type of authority is the people who create the position and then subsequently choose someone for it.

Personal authority

Personal authority comes from knowledge and awareness of oneself. It is being able to act with a certainty of purpose and a conviction that what you're doing is right.

Source of personal authority

  • Self knowledge
  • Self awareness

Delegated authority

Authority can be delegated from one person to another. This means that the second person can exercise usually a limited form of the authority "owned" by the first person. For example, a master may lend his slave to another master for a period of time or for a particular purpose. However, while this second master may then use the slave in the absence of the slave's master, this use is necessarily limited.

In the first instance, the slave will eventually be reclaimed by the slave's master. Thus the second master only has the slave for a limited period of time. Secondly, the slave needs to be returned to his master "in good working order". That is, the slave needs to be returned without having their usefulness to their real master changed.

Some forms of authority cannot be delegated. For example, technical and academic authority cannot generally be delegated. The ability to tie knots is not something that can be simply passed to another person. It needs to be learned, and once learned the person who has learned it has the skill themselves---i.e., they have acquired their own technical authority.

In some limited cases technical authority can be delegated. For example, when a bomb technician tells a bystander to grab everyone and run when he makes a certain signal, the bystander gains a form of authority---namely knowing when to run---from the technician.

See also