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Bailee Schuster and Tori Lee

Dr. Ziwoya
Final Paper
14 December 2015
Power and Identity struggles in Scandal
Episode 1: Sweet Baby
In this Discourse Analysis paper, we are analyzing the power and identity
issues that are present in the pilot episode of the hit series Scandal. The
main character that we will be focusing on for the majority of the paper is
Olivia Pope played by Kerry Washington. Shonda Rhimes created the series
and the first episode, of which we will be analyzing, was aired on April 5,
2012. The series is now in its fifth season of the hit show, staying steady with
its popularity and power based story lines. Power takes on multiple forms in
just the first episode alone. It is an interesting topic because power is evident
in multiple aspects of life. Olivia Pope, one of the main characters and the
strongest female lead in the series, upholds more power than most
characters in the episode, whether they are male or female. She has a strong
sense of identity and therefore holds herself to a very high standard, which
in turn, forces others to do the same. Power is also connected to an
individuals identity because it is perceived based on the identity that
someone portrays. The different characters in Scandal constantly battle with
their own power and identity. However, there is also a group identity that
they all believe in and contribute to, referred to as Olivia Pope and
Associates. In this paper, we will dissect the multiple theories that play into

both of these themes that are present in the first episode. These include the
Power- Elite Theory (C. Wright Mills, 1956) and the Sociocultural Theory
(Vygotskys, 1997).
Through Conversation Analysis, we coded the transcript for the
episode identifying the differences in how each character behaves in specific
situations and how power and identity are involved. We also went a step
farther and watched the first episode; this helped us because we were able
to see the nonverbal communication that is taking place throughout the
episode, especially between Olivia and the President. Not only are Olivias
words powerful, but her overall presence and the way she carries herself
makes one realize when watching the kind of level she holds herself to in
regards to her power. This topic is worth discussing because while it may not
be something that we consciously think about everyday, power and identity
are issues that students, professors, and people in the workforce struggle
with everyday.
Approaches and Theoretical Scope:
A persons identity is something that shapes how they act, feel, and
communicate in their life. It is a concept that is always forced upon us as we
grow up because our elders want us to develop a good personal identity. The
Sociocultural Theory, which was created by Vygotsky in 1997, describes how
a persons identity can change based on the situation they are put in.
Vygotsky mentions that it is most likely an individuals behavior that will
change due to a situation. However, as mentioned before, identity goes hand

in hand with how an individual behaves or acts. In Scandal, Olivia Pope

seems to have a very good sense of her personal identity, which is strongwilled, confident, morally sound, and powerful. Olivia presents herself in such
a way that makes people believe that she could literally rule the world. They
think that she could convince anyone to do anything she wanted them to do,
no matter the circumstance. According to the Sociocultural Theory, based on
the situation Olivia is out in, will contribute to how she will behave.
In addition to each associate struggling with their personal identities,
there is also a group identity within the group of Olivia Pope and Associates.
Every member looks to the other members for support and guidance when
they are unsure of what to do in a difficult situation. The Social Identity
Theory (Tajfel 1979) by Henri Tajfel is a good addition to this paper. This
theory explains that people figure out whom they are, or what their personal
identity is, based on their group membership. Tajfel reasoned that individuals
receive a sense of belonging in the world based on the self-esteem they
obtain from the group they identify with. The associates obtain a personal
identity based on the identity they perceive they have in their group. There
is almost always an in group and an out group. For example, Olivia Pope
and her current associates is the in-group. Quinn Perkins, the new associate,
is in the out-group. Therefore, Quinns personal identity is more timid and
shy because of the way she is perceived in the group. This is important to
analyze because it has a lot to do with how each associate acts based on the
fact that they want to be in the in group and will do just about anything to

be in it.
Olivia Pope and Associates strive to wear their white hats and be
gladiators in suits (Newbern 2015) in all that they do. Wearing a white hat
means that they are acting admirably and being honorable. While this is not
always true, they are always identifying with wearing their white hats. All
of Olivia Pope and Associates want to build themselves up in order to be the
best possible person that they could be. Olivia wants each of them to identify
with wearing white hats so that other people, clients and the government,
believe they act in such a way that confirms they are indeed being
honorable. This is interesting because each of them actually defies most
ethical standards as lawyers; they scheme, manipulate, and lie in order to
get their way. What is interesting is that they do this in order to help their
clients, so is it really all that bad? When we are talking about an individuals
personal identity, it is not a good thing. When we think about our own
personal identity, we would probably use words like trustworthy, honorable,
and genuine. This brings us to our next point, what being a gladiator in a
suit (Newbern 2015) means. This means that they will always fight for what
they believe in, regardless of what that means for them. They will always
fight and go to war for the people they care for and will be strong in all that
they do. However, all at the same time, keeping on a good face and
appearing to be calm and collected. The associates identify with this and use
it as a motivator each and every day. Harrison continually tells the new
associate, Quinn, that she needs to be a gladiator. This was specifically

interesting in the first episode when Quinn was shocked that Olivia was
asking them to do such things, but it was immediately justified when
Harrison said that they must be gladiators. The Sociocultural theory can be
applied to this point because in each situation the associates are brought
into, they will act in the same way a gladiator would. Identity is such a huge
part in this pilot episode as it is in everyday life.
Another issue we analyzed while watching this first episode was the
relevance of power. Power, by definition, according to Merriam-Websters
Dictionary is the ability or right to control people or things and it is also a
person or organization that has a lot of control or influence over other people
or organizations. In this case, Olivia Pope and Associates is the group of
people that has power over other groups of people, and they use that power
to fix problems for others. Not only does the group have power, but also
Olivia Pope herself has a great deal of power over her associates. In this
episode, one can see that Olivia Pope has illegitimate power, meaning that
she wasnt assigned that power but rather she has gained it through
structural and oppression based ideas. Not only does illegitimate power play
a role in this first episode of Scandal, but the idea of community related
power also is relevant. Community related power focuses on the way
communication influences power in groups, rather than just in the individual
themselves (Nousiainen, Holli, Kantola, Saari, & Hart 2013). This is
something that we see occurring multiple times throughout the episode, as
Olivia Pope and her associates refer to themselves as a whole group, rather

than as individuals, especially when they refer to themselves as Gladiators

in Suites. Community based power is focused on people working together to
accomplish a task, which creates a greater sense of overall power.
Throughout this episode we see the individual strengths of the associates
and how they work together to create a very powerful team that gets the job
done every time.
Someone who has influenced the idea of power greatly and has helped
us to understand what power is more clearly is Michael Foucault. According
to Foucault, power is what makes us what we are and he often uses the term
power/knowledge to show that power is created through knowledge,
truth, and scientific understanding. Foucaults ideas regarding power are
unique, and he is one of the few that believes that power is not always used
in a negative or forceful way, but rather can be used to positively influence
others into accomplishing tasks and is oftentimes necessary in todays
society. As we analyzed the pilot episode of Scandal we found that while
Olivia Pope and Associates might not always be working ethically, they are
always getting the job done for their clients. This is a direct representation of
what Foucault is trying to explain to us when discussing power, showing that
power is not a black and white idea, but rather can be viewed in different
ways depending on the situation.
While Olivia Pope and her associates use power to be forceful in order
to get a job done, you also see Olivia using her individual power in a positive
way to influence her associates into doing things that she feels is important

for them. A prime example of this comes in the first episode; Olivia and her
associate Stephen meet with Ukranian mobsters and use their group power
to get the job done for their client. However, later in the episode Olivia uses
her individual power on Stephen to encourage him to propose to his
girlfriend. While Stephen is unsure about the proposal, Olivia uses her power
to influence him into doing something that he normally wouldnt have done,
she even goes as far as helping him pick out the ring and giving him
encouragement up until he actually pops the question. As one can see,
power takes on many different roles and influences people of all different
backgrounds in this series, as well as in life in general.
Gender Roles and Identity
In this article, Sarah Gardner, a counselor for the University of
Maryland, extends W. Glassers findings about the Choice Theory (1998)
through the issue of gender roles and identity. This article explains what the
Choice Theory states and how gender roles relate to identity. First, Choice
Theory states that all human behavior is chosen. Each person has the ability
to choose the way they are going to act.
The social construction of gender is important when trying to
comprehend the relativeness of identity and gender. One must consider what
each gender wants and needs. Gardner points out that traditionally, women
do not believe they are accepted in society or have power. Therefore, they
work to increase their rights and try to identify themselves in order to do so.
Women are notorious for having a low self-esteem, which corresponds with

their identity. Gender is a central aspect of identity all over the world,
especially the workplace. According to the Choice Theory, individuals are
acting in order to satisfy needs. They are choosing to support their needs
and wants. Olivia Pope and Associates have the choice to act how they want
and do what they want to get to where they want to be. They do not have to
be manipulative and lie to get their way, they choose to because they
believe it makes them gladiators in suits. Quinn chooses to identify herself
with Olivia Pope. I believe that Quinn is insecure because she is a female and
new to Olivia Pope and Associates, so she shapes her identity with that.
Power Article: Volubility
The article, Who Takes the Floor and Why: Gender, Power, and
Volubility in Organizations by Victoria Brescoll touches on the issues of
power, gender roles and how they are related or not related to volubility.
Volubility is the amount of time a person talks, or in laymans terms,
talkativeness. Experiments performed within organizations indicated that
while power has a big effect on volubility for men, it does not necessarily
have an effect for women. In most social contexts, women have less power
than men, and as a result, power and gender are naturally confounded.
The Sociocultural Theory (Vygotsky, 1997) can be applied to Brescolls
study in many ways. People, whether male or female, change their behaviors
based on the situation they are in. For example, in an organization, when
talking in front of a large group versus in a small group, people will speak
more or less. This means they are changing their behavior based on the

situation. In addition, when people are in a large group, they may feel they
have less power than if they are in a small group, also affecting their
volubility. The Sociocultural theory (1997) reestablishes Brescolls findings
because based on whether someone is a male or female and the perceived
amount of power they have, they will change their volubility based on the
situation they are in. Olivia Pope does indeed seem to speak longer than her
colleagues and in turn has more power. She is the exception to this rule, but I
would conclude that she is most likely the exception to a lot of rules. Olivia
Pope is very powerful and works hard for that power.

Theorizing Gender Equality: Perspectives on Power and

In this article we take a closer look at the idea of legitimacy and the
way it effects power between different genders. Legitimate power is based
on the idea that people can make things happen based on the resources
made available to them. A good example of legitimate power, especially in
this episode of Scandal would be the president of the United States and his
assistants. He has been assigned this power, and can use it to accomplish
tasks that need to be done. Hegemonic power or illegitimate power is also
discussed, but is the opposite of legitimate power and is based on the idea
that social groups in power often stay in power due to their oppression based

and systematic ideas. In this sense bad power is replaced by good

power, and those who are already in power would remain in power.
Throughout the first episode, we see Olivia Popes illegitimate power
multiple times. Her power is considered illegitimate because its not assigned
to her; rather it is something she thinks she is entitled to. During the episode
we see Olivias relationship develop with the president of the United States
as she agrees to help him put a rumor out about his alleged affair with a
white house staff member. Even though she doesnt work for the white house
anymore she still agrees to use her illegitimate power to handle the
situation. On page 12 of the transcript of Scandal episode 101, we see this
conversation take place and Olivia assures the president that the situation
is handled. Consider it handled. (Newbern 2013). Though she goes onto
say that she no longer works for the president, we can see that he influences
her power, even though he has legitimate power that was assigned to him
and she has illegitimate power.
C. Wright Mills is a popular power-elite theorist, and his ideas regarding
this theory play into this episode of Scandal. This theory focuses on the idea
that an elite group of people controls the country and makes decisions that
the middle or lower class wouldnt have the option to make. Mills speculates
that these elite people are pulled from three main areas including the
President and his cabinet members, major corporate owners, and high
ranking military officials. This theory applies to this episode of Scandal

because while Olivias power is illegitimate, she is still considered to be a

part of an elite group of people who make decisions that could end up
affecting the rest of the public. Even though the power-elite theory focuses
on the idea of a very close group of people working together, they are not
considered to be a part of a conspiracy where they are manipulating the
situation. Olivia uses her power for the good of others, especially her clients.
Even when what she is doing might not be always ethically right, she is
acting in the best interest of her clients and using her resources in order to
do so.
Intercultural Communication Systems and Discourses of
Cultural Identity
One of the main focuses of this article was the ways in which identity
and cultural differences have an effect on intercultural communication as a
whole. Cultural variability theories view communication as being reliant on
the members that make up a group and that have and therefore show
cultural identities. Intercultural communication is viewed as being a
structured process. Holliday (2013) mentions the importance of social
structures, while also recognizing how important personal trajectories and
negotiations can be. The article then goes on to focus on the theory of social
systems and the way that they can effect intercultural communication. Social
systems include people or groups of people who interact and mutually

influence one anothers behaviors. In social systems there is usually a set of

interrelated activities that together create a single goal.
The article then dives deeper into understanding intercultural
communication systems while focusing on individual differences and cultural
differences. This brings forth the idea of ethnocentrism, which focuses on the
two ideas of Us and Them which can then guide a communication
system. To take this idea a little farther, one might think of us as being the
good and them as being the evil. This code of good vs. evil creates the
conditions to put a person in certain groups, which then determines the
norms that are associated with that group, especially when related to
communication. This article helps us to better understand why groups
communicate the way they do and how structuring groups a certain way can
create better communication systems.
When watching the Scandal episode titled Sweet Baby you see
multiple identities portrayed, both as individuals as well as in a group
setting. Gladiators in Suits is a main slogan used by Olivia Pope and
Associates to define them as a group. This relates back to the ethnocentrism
idea of we, its a way in which this group of people identifies themselves
and shows how they hold themselves to a higher standard. The theory of
social systems is also very relevant in this episode of Scandal. These social
systems can exist at all levels; in this case its Olivia Pope and Associates.
This social system presents itself from a holistic view, meaning that the
whole of the group determines the actions of the individuals in that group. By

constantly grouping themselves as gladiators in suits it is clear that they

view themselves as a whole first, and worry about their individual needs
second. An example of this comes early in the episode when Stephen puts
off getting engaged to his girlfriend in order to assist Olivia in a work related
matter. At the end of the scene he says, I love my job and doesnt seem
phased that he changed his plans in order to deal with work. His individual
identity in this instance is less important than his group identity. This is a
theme that is repeated and evident throughout the episode with other cast
members as well.
In conclusion, both identity and power are reoccurring themes that are
present throughout our lives everyday. They are something that everyone
will struggle with at some point in their lives. In Scandal, the associates
struggle with their own personal identities, but also their group identity. The
Social Identity Theory (Tajfel 1979) is a great theory to apply to this episode.
The group works great as individuals, but as a group, they are much stronger
and more influential. The Sociocultural Theory (Vygotsky 1997) was also a
great theory to apply to the episode because it helped explain why certain
characters act the way they do in certain situations. The Power Elite Theory
also helps us to better understand the power differences throughout the
episode and how each character is affected differently by power. While Olivia
usually is on top in regards to power, she is much more vulnerable and less
powerful when she is with the president. This is ironic because she does not

act this way because of the fact that he is the president, but rather that she
is vulnerable to him because of the love she has for him. Olivia holds a great
amount of power in every other situation she is put in that does not involve
the Presidents fate, but he is the one person who has power over her,
showing us that power struggles are relevant during this first episode and
continue to be throughout the series.

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Brescoll, V. L. (2011). Who Takes the Floor and Why: Gender, Power, and
Volubility in
Organizations. Administrative Science Quarterly, 56(4), 622-641.
Gardner, S. (2015). Choice theory: Gender roles and identity. International
Journal Of Choice
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