Currently Happening Presently Now: POWER

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"I should like merely to understand how it happens that so many men, so many villages, so many cities, so many nations, sometimes suffer under a single tyrant who has no other power than the power they give him; who is able to harm them only to the extent to which they have the willingness to bear with him; who could do them absolutely no injury unless they preferred to put up with him rather than contradict him."
-Ettiene de La Boetie, 1564.

Lukes, S. (1974). Power: A radical view (Vol. 1). Macmillan: London.

"What has to be explained is not the fact that the man who is hungry steals or the fact that the man who is exploited strikes, but why the majority of those who are hungry don’t steal and why the majority of those who are exploited don’t strike.”
-Wilhelm Reich

Boétie, E. D. L. (1975). Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, The Ludwig von Mises Institute.

Gunn, S. (2006). From hegemony to governmentality: changing conceptions of power in social history. Journal of Social History, 39(3), 705-720.

In the 1960s and 1970s the emergent domain of social history was marked by a reconceptualisation of the concept of power. The dimensions of power and its operations were no longer understood to be confined to elite institutions such as parliament, but extended to the relations and institutions of everyday life. In the process, social historical writing helped to redefine the notion of the political itself. Since this early phase a number of different conceptions of power have been utilised by social historians, including the Gramscian notion of hegemony and, more recently, the Foucauldian idea of governmentality. This article explores the theoretical implications of these concepts and looks at how ideas associated with governmentality in particular have been operationalised in recent historical writing, including the work of Mary Poovey and Patrick Joyce. In conclusion, the article identifies some of the problems arising from governmentality approaches and sketches briefly an alternative way of thinking about power centred on analysis of the body.

Barbalet, J. M. (1985). Power and resistance. British Journal of Sociology, 531-548.

Treatments of Weber's discussion of power have not adequately appreciated that in his analysis power and resistance are distinct but interdependent aspects of power relations. The concept 'resistance' is necessary for an understanding of power relations and irreducible to the concept of 'power'. However this insight cannot be developed from Weberian premises. Through a discussion of accounts of power in Lukes, Giddens, and others, it is shown that the distinction between power and resistance remains obscure for theories which emphasize the formal properties of power and ignore its social context. The exercise of power over others draws upon social resources not available to subordinate agents. Nevertheless, those subject to power can mobilize other social resources in a contribution to power relations through resistance. In limiting power, resistance influences the outcome of power relations.

"A classic device of power - and this is true whether we're talking about emperors or perpetrators of domestic violence - is to present their victims with a series of false choices whereby no matter which the victims choose, the perpetrators win and the victims are further victimized. Nazis, for example, sometimes gave the Jews the choice of different colored identity papers. Many Jews then focused, reasonably enough, on trying to figure out which of these colors would more likely save their lives. Of course the color of the identity papers made no material difference: the primary purpose of the choice was to divert victims' attention from the task of unmasking the whole system that was killing them. In addition, this false choice co-opted victims into believing they were making meaningful choices. In other words, it got them on some level to take responsibility for what was being done with them: If I am killed it is my own fault because I chose the wrong color."
-Derrick Jensen and George Draffan, Welcome to the Machine: Science, Surveillance, and the Culture of Control, 2004, page 29.

"We are not content with negative obedience, nor even with the most abject submission. When finally you surrender to us, it must be of your own free will. We do not destroy the heretic because he resists us; so long as he resists we never destroy him. We convert him, we capture his inner mind, we reshape him. We burn all evil and all illusion out of him; we bring him over to our side, not in appearance, but genuinely, heart and soul. We make him one of ourselves before we kill him. It is intolerable to us that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be."
-George Orwell, 1984.

"Ordinary men and women will be expected to be docile, industrious, punctual, thoughtless, and contented. Of these qualities probably contentment will be considered the most important. In order to produce it, all the researches of psycho-analysis, behaviourism, and biochemistry will be brought into play.... All the boys and girls will learn from an early age to be what is called `co-operative,' i.e., to do exactly what everybody is doing. Initiative will be discouraged in these children, and insubordination, without being punished, will be scientifically trained out of them."
-Bertrand Russell, The Scientific Outlook, 1931, page 251.


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