PAGE IN PROGRESS What you see here is a page of my hypertext book POWER of meanings // MEANINGS of power. Initially empty, this page will slowly be filled with thoughts, notes, and quotes. One day, I will use them to write a coherent entry, similar to these completed pages. See this post to better understand my creative process. Thank you for your interest and patience! :)
First of all, you may ask, "Who says that power is a thing?"
If you think of it, you will notice that we talk and think about power as if it was a thing. For example, we say that one can "have power" and "use power" –or "abuse it"– but also "give power", "take power", "lose power" and "discover power". All of these verbs –have, use, give, take, lose, and discover– suggest that we see power as something distinct that can be imagined as a separate entity, even though it is not necessarily a tangible object.
In my book Media Is UsI explain that we often think about media as a thing separate from ourselves, and discuss why it is a problem. It is, in fact, not uncommon for human beings to simplify complex phenomena in order to be able to make some sense of them. The problem is that this simplification often becomes incorporated to meanings of the complex phenomena we are trying to understand. Losing part of their complexity is a sacrifice we often have to make to understand the world. The problem is that we usually also lose sight of the fact that we lost the complexity. On one hand, we are able to talk about complex phenomena as power. On the other hand, we are trapped in the simplified language and unable to get to the real complexity of the phenomenon in question.
We cannot handle power as an object, because it is an aspect of our relationships with ourselves and others. However, analyzing the language commonly used to talk about power can help us better understand power. For example, it is important to understand what it really means to "have" or "use" power.
If power is not a thing, what is it? In another entry, I explain that power can be seen as ability or influence (it would be more precise to talk in plural about forms of power as abilities and influences). But this is also a simplification. Other ways to understand power is to think about circumstances (they are connected with influences, as by influencing each other people create each other's circumstances). Foucault described power as a flow or network with nods. If we want to be poetic, we could also compare power to a chess game. Keep in mind that all these ways to see power in this paragraph are nothing but very limiting windows that allow us to make a bit of sense of an extremely complicated phenomenon in front of us.