The complications that come with potentially asymmetrical experiences of power show what a challenge it can be to make sense of those experiences. This becomes all the more a problem when we try to fit these experiences into narratives that don't match them.
What we perceive power to be depends on the story we tell about it. The power of the hero that fights the monster or the king that unites the country is different from the power of love, or the power stirred up by a powerful orator. "Money is power" suggests that money can be used as power or at least to buy power. Other narratives focus on inequality and that power comes from difference (of money, education, class, skin colour) or different positions in a hierarchy. Yet another story relates power to positions in games people play, like the drama triangle.
Talk about power can easily be alienating because it is such an abstract term it seems to disconnect people from what is actually happening to them. Which raises the question, if power can mean all these different things, is it still valuable to have one word for all of it? My sense is, yes, in order to highlight the connecting thread between all these aspects of power.
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.