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. Thank you for your interest and patience!
While this page remains in progress, you can read a coherent brief overview of my theory on this page.
This theory was born out of my attempts to understand why blame in unhelpful, and how to combine this understanding with an acknowledgement of personal accountability. I was not satisfied with what I saw a simplistic binary understanding of power: some people have it and others do not.
Imagine a situation. You are sitting in your therapist's office, having a session. What can we notice here in terms of power if we apply the theory I am proposing? First, we can look at what I call micropower: power of specific individuals involved in this interaction. I also use such terms of snapshot power and vector power. Snapshot power is the power relationships between individual in a specific moment of time. Vector power shows who determines what the other person does or does not (e.g., if I tell you what to do, and you do it).
When I am talking to my therapist, if we take the snapshot of this power situation, we will see (most probably, hopefully!) that our individual power is equal. For example, if I decide to get up and leave the office at any point, my therapist is not going to be able to stop me. On the other hand, I would not be able to take out a marker and draw on the walls of the office. I know that my therapist would not allow me to do that. (Compare this to a situation when a child is interacting with a teacher; the child has less power than the teacher in the classroom, as the child cannot leave whenever he pleases.)
This was a brief look at individual power in this particular situation. However, individual power does not describe everything that's happening here. Though no other people are present in the room, many (many!) other people have played a role in what is happening between me and the therapist in this session. This includes (in no particular order) the very idea of therapy, how the room is arranged, the history of every artifact in this room, the very language (for example, English) that we speak, how payment system works, how we are dressed, acceptable body language that we use during the interaction, and also the building we are having the meeting in, the history of the area, the city and the whole country. Most of these things are taken for granted and exist in the background, but they are essential to what is going on in the room during the session.
In other words, other people's choices and actions determine my interaction with the therapist here and now. This is what I call collective power or macropower. For example, take the language we speak. Although we choose certain words and how to say them, our choices are determined by actions of many other people. Language has power over us.
"We know from physics that rules of the macro world do not apply to quantum mechanics. Atoms might look like little solar systems, but subatomic particles behave nothing like planets. Einstein was actually quite disturbed by the unpredictability of the quantum world, and in his letter to Max Born, he famously stated that God 'does not play dice' (meaning that the same rules should apply to phenomena we see through the microscope and through the telescope). I suggest that, similarly to the universe described by physics, the social world has two different but interconnected planes of existence. I argue that power struggles play out differently based on whether they happen in specific relationships between people (the micro level) or in the universe of all relationships interconnected with each other (the macro level). Oppressors can still oppress and villains do cause harm, but when it comes to society as a whole—which we have such trouble wrapping our individual minds around—additional explanations are necessary" (p. 67).
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