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Defining power In social and political theory, power is often regarded as an essentially contested concept see Lukes andand Connolly Although this claim is itself contested see Haugaard ; Morriss— and Wartenberg12—17there is no doubt that the literature on power is marked by deep, widespread, and seemingly intractable disagreements over how the term power should be understood.
One such disagreement pits those who define power as getting someone else to do what you want them to do, that is, as an exercise of power-over, against those who define it as an ability or a capacity to act, that is, as a power-to do something.
Notice that there are two salient features of this definition of power: Arguing in favor of this way of conceptualizing power, Hanna Pitkin notes that power is related etymologically to the French word pouvoir and the Latin potere, both of which mean to be able.
Some of the theorists who analyze power as power-to leave power-over entirely out of their analysis. For example, Arendt distinguishes power sharply from authority, strength, force, and violence, and offers a normative account in which power is understood as an end in itself Others suggest that both aspects of power are important, but then focus their attention on either power-over e.
Another way of carving up the philosophical literature on power is to distinguish between action-theoretical conceptions of power — that is, those that define power in terms of either the actions or the dispositional abilities of particular actors — and broader systemic or constitutive conceptions of power — that is, those that view power as systematically structuring possibilities for action, or, more strongly, as constituting actors and the social world in which they act.
On this way of distinguishing various conceptions of power, Hobbes and Weber are on the same side, since both of them understand power in primarily instrumentalist, individualist, and action-theoretical terms Saar The systemic conception Feminism ppt highlights the ways in which broad historical, political, economic, cultural, and social forces enable some individuals to exercise power over others, or inculcate certain abilities and dispositions in some actors but not in others.
Saar argues, however, that the Feminism ppt conception of power should be understood not as an alternative to the action-theoretical conception of power, but rather as a more complex and sophisticated variant of that model. The constitutive conception of power, by contrast, focuses on the fundamentally transindividual and relational ways in which individuals and the social worlds they inhabit are themselves constituted by power relations.
The roots of this constitutive conception can be traced back to Spinoza a and band also found in the work of more contemporary theorists such as Arendt and Foucault.
What accounts for the highly contested nature of the concept of power? One explanation is that how we conceptualize power is shaped by the political and theoretical interests that we bring to the study of power LukesSaid For example, democratic theorists are interested in different things when they study power than are social movement theorists or critical race theorists or postcolonial theorists, and so on.
On this view, if we suppose that feminists who are interested in power are interested in understanding and critiquing gender-based relations of domination and subordination as these intersect with other axes of oppression and thinking about how such relations can be transformed through individual and collective resistance, then we would conclude that specific conceptions of power should be evaluated in terms of how well they enable feminists to fulfill those aims.
Lukes suggests another, more radical, explanation for the essentially contested nature of the concept of power: It may contribute to their continued functioning, or it may unmask their principles of operation, whose effectiveness is increased by their being hidden from view.
The thought that conceptions of power are themselves shaped by power relations is behind the claim, made by many feminists, that the influential conception of power as power-over is itself a product of male domination for further discussion, see section 4 below.
Liberal Feminist Approaches Those who conceptualize power as a resource understand it as a positive social good that is currently unequally distributed amongst women and men. For feminists who understand power in this way, the goal is to redistribute this resource so that women will have power equal to men.
The conception of power as a resource can be found in the work of some liberal feminists MillOkin For example, in Justice, Gender, and the Family, Susan Moller Okin argues that the contemporary gender-structured family unjustly distributes the benefits and burdens of familial life amongst husbands and wives.
Here, Okin seems to presuppose that power is a resource that is unequally and unjustly distributed between men and women; hence, one of the goals of feminism would be to redistribute this resource in more equitable ways.
First, Young maintains that it is wrong to think of power as a kind of stuff that can be possessed; on her view, power is a relation, not a thing that can be distributed or redistributed.
Second, she claims that the distributive model tends to presuppose a dyadic, atomistic understanding of power; as a result, it fails to illuminate the broader social, institutional and structural contexts that shape individual relations of power. According to Young, this makes the distributive model unhelpful for understanding the structural features of domination.
Third, the distributive model conceives of power statically, as a pattern of distribution, whereas Young, following Foucaultclaims that power exists only in action, and thus must be understood dynamically, as existing in ongoing processes or interactions.
Finally, Young argues that the distributive model of power tends to view domination as the concentration of power in the hands of a few. According to Young, although this model might be appropriate for some forms of domination, it is not appropriate for the forms that domination takes in contemporary industrial societies such as the United States Young a, 31— In the following section, I discuss the specific ways in which feminists with different political and philosophical commitments — influenced by phenomenology, radical feminism, socialist feminism, intersectional feminism, post-structuralism, and analytic philosophy — have conceptualized domination.
Beauvoir argues that whereas men have assumed the status of the transcendent subject, women have been relegated to the status of the immanent Other.
As she puts it in a famous passage from the Introduction to The Second Sex: This downfall represents a moral fault if the subject consents to it; if it is inflicted upon him, it spells frustration and oppression.
Although Beauvoir suggests that women are partly responsible for submitting to the status of the Other in order to avoid the anguish of authentic existence hence, they are in bad faith see Beauvoir xxviishe maintains that women are oppressed because they are compelled to assume the status of the Other, doomed to immanence xxxv.
She notes that girls and women often fail to use fully the spatial potential of their bodies for example, they throw like girlsthey try not to take up too much space, and they tend to approach physical activity tentatively and uncertainly Young b, — Young argues that feminine bodily comportment, movement, and spatial orientation exhibit the same tension between transcendence and immanence that Beauvoir diagnoses in The Second Sex.
And yet women are also subjects, and, thus, cannot think of themselves as mere bodily objects. Feminists have also mined the work of Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology, for useful resources for feminist phenomenology Al-Saji and Oksala This means that there is always a gap between our personal experience and the linguistic representations that we employ to make sense of that experience, and it is this gap that provides the space for contestation and critique.
For further feminist-phenomenological analyses of domination see Bartky, Bordoand Kruks For recent overviews of the current state of the art in feminist phenomenology, see Fisher and Embreeand Heinamaa and Rodemeyer For a highly influential articulation of queer phenomenology, drawing on the work of Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Fanon, see Ahmed · Karen J.
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Pasque, PhD -Associate Professor, Adult & Higher Education • Liberal feminism is a traditional perspective that was established as a part of the first wave of feminism.
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