Power can be freedom, capability, energy, force, dominance, creativity, strength, status, authority or it can be violence, aggression, abuse, and exploitation.
What makes it even more complex is that the nature of power does not just depend on what we do and how we do it, but also, most crucially, on how it is experienced. And that it can be experienced very differently by the person who does something and any number of people directly or indirectly involved. Power can only be understood if we look it at from different angles and see its different aspects at the same time. And, power can only be understood if we realise that it is not some basic ingredient but a complex outcome of different aspects coming together.
This seems to make obvious sense when one talks about power in complex relationships or hierarchies. But, even in the most basic form of personal power, just one person doing something, I would say, there are several factors that need to come together to make this an exercise and experience of power.
My hope is that once we understand those basic building blocks and how they work together, we will find it easier to get in touch with the power we and others experience and find a way to talk about power together.
This conversation is part of a series titled:
Deconstructing power: What are we talking about when we talk about power?
A lot of people might have heard about a book by Reni Eddo-Lodge called:
"Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race"
Intriguingly, this could easily be extended to a whole series:
- Why I'm no longer talking to men about sexism
- Why I'm no longer talking to cis people about gender
- Why I'm no longer talking to young/old people about age
- Why I'm no longer talking to rich people about money
Why do all these titles sound plausible? To me, it seems the underlying issue is that it is hard to talk to people who experience power differently. This is because I am a white, middle class, middle aged, educated man, i.e the typical person no-one wants to talk with about power. And, for a long time the way people talked about power just made no sense to me.
So, why is it so hard to talk about power? Starting from my personal struggle with understanding power, I came to see three main stumbling blocks: the way power is experienced, the kind of stories we tell about power, and the way how challenging these stories challenges the way we think about ourselves.
The rough plan for the sessions is:
- Session 1: The devil and the detail - Why do we need to talk about power and what seems so hard about it
- Session 2: Jackboot meets hand - The asymmetrical & paradoxical experience of power
- Session 3: The power of narratives and the narratives of power
- Session 4: The chemistry of power - how its different aspects work together
The sessions are being recorded live as part of the onlinevents interview programme and will be able to view in the onlinevents CPD Library.