I created this website to explore power. Why is this exploration necessary?
Understanding power can help us live in a better society.
1. Power is an aspect of all human relationships.
2. As people are looking for ways to improve society, the issue of power inevitably comes up. It is hidden in such questions as, "Whose fault is this problem?", "Who is supposed to fix it?", "Who gets in the way of making things better?".
3. Power is often seen as a simple binary: some people always have it while others do not. This assumption hides the complexity of social relationships. By relying on this assumption, we risk creating new problems as we are trying to eliminate old ones.
We need to see power as a paradox, not as a binary.
Seeing power as a paradox means acknowledging that the world is not divided into those having power and those lacking it. Rather, each one of us is powerless and powerful at the same time.
This perspective may sound strange, but it is actually not new. The complexity of human coexistence has been discussed by scholars in many disciplines within the humanities, social and behavioral sciences. Hints at this complexity can be also found in such practices as mindfulness and Nonviolent Communication.* The project presented on this website is meant to bring various ideas about the complexity of power to public and scholarly attention. It will draw connections between different practices and directions of thought, connections that may not seem obvious.
I am writing a book about power by creating a hypertext.
A hypertext I am working on here is essentially a non-linear book. It will consist of multiple entries interconnected through links. In other words, I will be writing the book on this website, developing my ideas and supporting them through a variety of sources. This is an unusual format: I will invite my readers to explore my book as I am writing it.
This project was launched in November 2021. As I am writing it in my free time, of which I do not have much, the hypertext will be growing very slowly. Although the book will appear incomplete, you can browse and read it anytime (I recommend going to the Introduction** first). To see updates about completed or updated pages, visit my blog.
If you are a scholar, you should know that this website will use the rhizomatic research method introduced by postmodernist philosophers Deleuze and Guattari. Human thinking is non-linear, and power is an especially complex concept. That's why using the non-hierarchical structure for representation and interpretation of ideas about power can be especially fruitful. The hypertext format is ideally suited for this task, as it will allow me to trace connections between multi-layered, multi-branching ideas through links.
If you are a curious non-academic, you should know that the hypertext will consist of entries written in an accessible language meant to make sense to the broader audience of college-educated readers. Some pages will explain theories or concepts, others will tell stories and describe practices, yet others will contain summaries of books or articles related to the topic of power. Entries will touch upon a wide variety of social contexts, including parenting, education, art, politics, commerce, and media.
Where does the name of the project come from?
This hypertext builds on the theory of micro- and macropower introduced in my first book Media is us: Understanding communication and moving beyond blame. According to this theory, we should investigate the paradoxical power relationship between individuals and the social system. The paradox is that each person is shaped by society, but is at the same time shaping society in return (this idea was introduced and developed by a number of other scholars). Importantly, acknowledging this paradox does not prevent us from investigating power imbalances between different individuals or social groups.
Social processes related to power have tangible outcomes; however, these processes depend on intangible ideas in people's heads. Human behavior is shaped by meanings people use to understand the world (including themselves and other individuals). That is why the first part of this project's title is POWER of meanings. I will pay special attention to the role of meaning-making in our relationships with ourselves and others. My work is inspired by Clifford Geertz’s description of people as “animal[s] suspended in webs of significance [they themselves have] spun” (this is a perfect way to capture the paradox of power). It is my belief that disentangling these webs with patience and empathy can help us become better individuals in a happier society.
The second part of the title –MEANINGS of power– signals that I aim to explore interpretations of power and a host of related concepts, such as free will, agency, social system, responsibility and blame. My goal is not to formulate a perfect definition of power, but to use conversations about this multi-faceted concept to help people better understand themselves and each other.