1.2.2 Issues of power and agency
Now you have completed Activity 2, let’s start considering each aspect of PASH using case studies and spray diagrams to help us; starting with power and agency.
Chapter 2 outlines how the dominance of different views on development is determined by the power and influence that a person or group of people hold. This in turn is linked to access to knowledge and the degree to which people can gain or acquire knowledge equally. The chapter focuses very much on power and agency at a macro scale, that is, within and between groups at a national or international level. While it introduces the notion of power and agency at individual or community level it doesn’t go into this in any depth. Therefore, we’d like you to think about power and agency at this micro level in the next activity. But before doing so, let’s just clarify in more detail what we mean by these terms.
Power has more than one meaning so it is helpful to consider three forms of power which some scholars refer to:
- Power over – control over other people through, for example, direct political control or control over resources. ‘Power over’ does not necessarily have to be overt, as when people internalise as ‘natural’ their power relations with others.
- Power to – having the capacities and capabilities to make choices and engage in actions; in other words the ability to change the conditions of one’s existence. It often embodies resistance to power over.
- Power with – refers to the ability to achieve control through joint action with others.
This is defined as ‘the degree to which agents are free to make their own decisions and follow their chosen path of action’.
Listen to the audio below on the conflicted and contested nature of development and how it has shaped one individual’s life in Detroit.
Take notes as you listen particularly around the following issues:
- examples of power over
- examples of power to
- examples of power with
- examples of agency in action.
Transcript: Detroit audio (16 minutes)
I made my notes on these examples in the form of a spray diagram (Figure 2). You may have picked up similar or different examples because, as I shall discuss in a moment, power is dynamic and different in various contexts.
I don’t want to discuss my examples in any depth, however, I do want us to consider the idea that the Heidelberg Project is an example of ‘power with’ and agency in action. Some of you might contest this because of its origins as a project of just one man. But it is also a project that has increasingly involved the community and provided an opportunity for the community to consider their own futures more actively. In fact, Jenenne talks of the project as having its own ideology (she calls it Heidelbergology – listen to audio below) which highlights how they visualise their project as community driven agency (see Figure 3).
Transcript: Detroit audio (3 minutes)
Your answers to Activity 3 on power and agency might also have alerted you to the dynamic nature of power. It is not fixed, although undoubtedly some forms of power appear durable. ‘Power to’ can embody resistance, and the very notion of ‘power with’ implies some negotiation of the power relations between those who wish to act ‘with’ each other in order to enable and enact a greater power. It is important to challenge, therefore, the notion that power can be absolute. The apparently weak are able to resist, and there are many sources of power. The power of holding material wealth is obviously very important, but so too is forming alliances between people and groups. For others, a source of power lies in their expertise and knowledge.
It is probably more appropriate to think of power as relational, meaning that it exists and is negotiated in the relationships between individuals and groups, from local to national to international scales. Useful here is the concept of interdependence, which again is pertinent at the full range of scales. In international studies, the world system of nation states is often characterised as both anarchy and interdependence. Similarly, the integration of the world economy under the banner of globalisation implies interdependence. Shanghai and Detroit work as cities because of the interdependence of their many and varied elements. For example, the rich and poor of cities are often interdependent, with the latter providing essential domestic services for the former. Interdependence does not imply an absence of power relations, but put simply this power is never absolute nor zero in any one party to the relationship.
Now review all your notes that you have made so far and draw a spray diagram that helps collate your notes around the issues of power and agency.