Fundamentals Seminar 12: Power- It's Uses and Abuses

This seminar relates to Conflict Frontiers Massively Parallel Peacebuilding (MPP) Challenge 10.

Power is often thought as force, or the ability to impose one's will upon another.  It is much more complex than that, however. Understanding the ins and outs of sources of power and power strategies can help you gain and wield power much more successfully. 

  • Power -- If power were one-dimensional, we could agree who has more and who has less. However, we are often surprised when a seemingly less powerful party holds a more powerful party at bay. This essay discusses both potential and actual power, the forms power can take, and its role in causing and solving intractable conflicts.
  • Coercive Power -- Huey Newton wrote, "Politics is war without bloodshed. War is politics with bloodshed." Though not all politics is coercive, it is certainly one way to force people to do what you want. This essay discusses the pros and cons of coercive power--violent, nonviolent, political, military, and more.
  • Aggression -- This essay explores the debate over aggression, asking whether it is an instinct, a reaction or a learned response.
  • Revenge and the Backlash Effect -- Most people hate to be forced to do things against their will. Using threats often produces such a large backlash that they cause more problems than they solve, as this essay explains.
  • Nonviolence and Nonviolent Direct Action -- Nonviolent direct action is action, usually undertaken by a group of people, to persuade someone else to change their behavior. Examples include strikes, boycotts, marches, and demonstrations--social, economic, or political acts that are intended to convince the opponent to change their behavior without using violent force.
  • Exchange Power -- Simply, exchange power means that I do something for you in order to get you to do something for me. However, this simple concept has formed the basis for very complex human interactions, for example our economic system.
  • Incentives -- Incentives (also known as bribes) involve rewarding another party for changing their behavior. Although incentives have been frequently associated with weakness or indecisiveness, they can be an effective approach for resolving conflicts.
  • Integrative Power -- Integrative power is the power that binds humans together. Kenneth Boulding calls it "love" or, "if that is too strong," he said, "call it respect." Though seldom studied or discussed, Boulding argues that it is the strongest form of power, especially because the other two forms (exchange and coercive power) cannot operate without integrative power too.
  • Power Inequities -- Plutarch wrote, "An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics." This essay deals with the power inequities that have existed in almost all human societies.
  • Empowerment -- Saul Alinsky wrote, "I tell people to hell with charity, the only thing you'll get is what you're strong enough to get." This essay discusses what empowerment is, how it can be accomplished, who should do it, when, and what the outcomes might be.
  • Voice -- Those whose voices are most often silenced include women, children, minority groups, indigenous peoples, and the poor. This article explains the importance of having a voice, whether it is through voting, holding office, or having a seat at the negotiating table.
  • Activism -- This essay discusses ways that disputants can (and do) address intractable conflicts in constructive ways through activism.