I’ve just published the final episode of a three part series on power. The idea to do the series occurred to me earlier this year as I began to learn of the philosophies and psychological theories that describe different conceptualisations of how society, and human relationships in particular, function. Prior to this I had always thought of power in the traditional sense, ergo someone has it and they use it to command a group, be that a family, a business, an army, or an empire. But, I soon realised that power construed in this way is naive and misses the point. Yes, power can be coercive and dominating from the leader-follower perspective, but it is far more complex and emergent. Power is a social glue, as social psychologist Professor Ana Guinote described it, and it is not only about the one with the power, but also those subject to it.
Like the layers of an onion, the further I delved into the topic, the more I began to realise that power is a rich and complex construct of social reality that can be many things simultaneously. It is dynamic, constantly shifting between states as society adapts to new constructions and realities. But crucially, I realised that power is most important when considered in the very structures which we take for granted. The structures of society which protect us, cure us, educate us, keep us safe, and attend to our needs, but which actually form and shape who we are and who we are destined to become. This power is so important because it acts insidiously through us, yet dictates how we act within our cultural groups and conceptualise those who exist beyond them. Practically all of the negatives aspects of humanity in some way find their roots in the moral underpinnings of our social worlds, taught to us by our societies, as if by osmosis.
A person who tells us how to behave may influence some, but we can still see it for what it is and make a choice – to follow, or not. But, many other social forces act upon us which we can’t see unless we really take the time to stop and reflect upon them. We think we are free, but really our choices are constrained within the narrow confines of what is socially acceptable. This is not an inherently bad thing, but it is a form of power nonetheless, a form I would argue is its most powerful construction.
But rather than go into more detail here, I invite you to take a listen to the three episodes on power, episode one on traditional power with a vignette of William Golding’s classic novel, the lord of the flies, episode two where I introduce the concepts I’ve discussed here and their origins in postmodernism and poststructuralism, and finally episode three which considers power as a force acting on, from and through the individual and how this ties together with the wider social forces outlined in the previous episodes.
In many ways I see this work as a natural growth of the podcast into a platform to not only clarify and articulate my thoughts on a topic, but also to try to bring others along with me on the journey. Others who may be seeking to open their minds to new ways of looking at the world, or to at least be introduced to old ones which they, like me, may not have heard of before. True academics and social scientists may well look at my work as an overly simplistic, amateurish, or quaint attempt to put a pop-culture spin on topics typically reserved for the heady thinkers of notable institutions, and they would be absolutely correct. Yet, I am not dissuaded, for on the one hand I invite – no, I crave – their feedback to better understand these topics myself, but also because knowledge of this type should not be solely reserved for the formal setting of higher education. But, it is often inaccessible because that is where these conversations commonly take place. They are not easy concepts, but they are not hard either, it is just a matter of communicating them effectively. I hope my efforts are at least a credible attempt to do just that.