Wait - what is power?

Holly Swyers (nesn-info@CCE.ORG)
Fri, 15 Mar 1996 14:27:00 GMT

I'm getting less happy with where we are in this debate about power. We seem
to be throwing the word around without any consensus about its meaning. On
March 14th, you wrote:
if you read the ethnographies of Colin Turnbull, Richard Lee and
others who have worked with gathering-hunting societies, you discov er
how these folks prevent anyone from having power over others.

Me: From the debate so far, PREVENTION is a kind of power. My exposure to
Turnbull has only been _The Mountain People_, which if I understood it
correctly was a message about the generally self-serving nature of human
beings. However, taking that as an exception, if human beings in small
groups tend to be egalitarian communities in which having power over someone
is a bad thing (I don't know if this is the case), then at what point does it
become appropriate/accepted/etc for people to have power over one another?
Where does the notion of power come from - WHO DECIDES?

Rohrlich: Also, feminists who
talk about empowering women and minorities are not talking about
power over others

Me: I've met a few that are, but I accept that most are using empowerment in
a different way. How would you describe "empowerment" as used in feminist
discourse? It could mean learning how to play by the rules of the game
established by the dominant subculture - or it could mean playing by rules of
a game that the dominant subculture would have no chance of understanding.
Or it could mean something completely different. I would genuinely like to
understand what power means to a feminist - I think that would give an
interesting texture to this conversation (i'm almost surprised you haven't
mentioned that this thread is clearly being more pursued by men than women -
does that mean anything?)

Rohrlich: Do you really think he [Thornton] has answers for you?

Me: I'm actually trying to construct my own answers to my own questions
without having to reinvent the wheel. I think everyone's ideas have some
validity - much as I commented on 19th century thinkers in my last post.
Even if Thornton makes me angry or if I think he is wrong, if I can figure
out the reasons for my reaction and articulate them, than I have gained. As
it stands, he is presenting certain ideas that I have not been exposed to
before, and so is helping me stretch my own ideas. While I agree he comes
off a little harshly at times (something I attribute in part to the fact that
email communication has a confusingly conversational tone while still being a
written mode of communication. I learned the hard way that people may not
read a note in the same tone of voice that you wrote it), he is still
interesting to debate with (please forgive dangling preposition).

Finally, please continue your contributions to this thread. Your posts keep
reminding me that this debate needs to remember to ground itself in the
reality we live in.