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2.1 The concept of power

This critical stance is also something that can be used in organisations to highlight and expose overt uses of power in organisational life. Power is not, in itself, a negative force – it is how it is used that counts. This is illustrated very neatly in a recent book by Clegg, Courpasson and Phillips (2006), who draw from the work of Mary Parker Follett in the early twentieth century to challenge the idea that power is straightforward and one-dimensional. They talk of ‘power over’, which they see as largely coercive and is exercised ‘when people and things are made to do something that they would not otherwise do or when their preferences … to do something are arrested or stopped in some way’ (2006, p. 191). This form of power is that which is typically referred to when one group or individual impose(s) their view(s) on others who are not powerful enough to openly resist.

Conversely, ‘power to’ is much more positive and ‘is creative, it accomplishes acts, and it changes the nature of things and relations’ (2006, p. 191). In short, nothing gets done without some form of power being present to enable acts to be performed. You use power in your daily interactions to get even the most basic tasks done. Of course, conflicts arise when one group acts in a way they feel is ‘power to’, but others experience as ‘power over’ behaviour. An interest in business, management and organisation is also an interest in how power is handled. For example, a recent paper by McCabe (2010) is intriguingly titled ‘Strategy as Power’, and examines how power was exercised during strategy work in a UK building society. So, being critical means looking behind what is written, the claims made and the benefits cited, and exposing the hidden agendas we all have when we are communicating knowledge and information.