Power is an underlying thread that extends through all of life. We’ve all heard statements that “money is power” or “sex is power”. I don’t have a strong opinion on the accuracy of those two statements, but I do believe that the real power issues of our era center around ideologies. Our ideologies are then expressed in how we create our institutions and organizations. What we believe, and the accompanying meaning of that belief, are central to the educational process.

The following are the key ideology-driven power constructs that will shape our world over the next several decades:

  • Corporations. Corporations have one ulterior motive: generate value for shareholders. Country lines and patriotism are secondary to achievement of corporate vision. In our developing global environments, corporations hold tremendous power.
  • Belief-based organizations (religious, atheistic). Religious structures have long held an important role in society. The attainment of “higher ideals” has shaped and driven society for centuries. The loss of public power (i.e. governing people, law and punishment) has resulted in spiritual groups developing a quiet, often behind-the-scenes, power in the lives of their adherents. This quiet power is then reflected in how members of a group function within corporations, institutions, and government.
  • Countries/governments. I’m not sure how this power structure will fair in a global era. Already we are seeing countries sacrifice some autonomy to be a part of larger multi-country trade and currency groups (EU, NAFTA are examples…and UN is a more global example, though countries don’t necessarily sacrifice autonomy to be a part of UN).
  • “The people”. This power structure has gained substantial capacity to influence corporations and governments (China and Iran may not be the best examples) with the advent of internet and communication technologies. Smart mobs and the “new superpower”, are examples of informal, often rapid, organization of people around promoting/preserving an ideal, or righting an injustice. While a far cry from Marxist “power to the people” approach, this power structure works within to influence other structures (instead of trying to replace or duplicate them). “The people” wield their influence based on the nature of the power structure they are trying to influence (corporations with dollars, countries with votes, churches with reputation).
  • Education. Education is the odd element in this power list. Education influences each structure listed above, as it is the process by which other power systems achieve and propagate their aims. In an ideological sense, I believe education, when coupled with appropriate power structure, is the only way we are able to truly change the world (for the better). In a sense, education is the balancing, accountability, critical thinking element of power.

    I’m not trying to present any of these power structures as negative – just simply acknowledging that they exist and each carries a certain approach, element, or implication for society.

  • One Response to “Power”

    1. Enjoyed reading and thinking about this list. I’m not sure about “People power.” I like the idea and as a proponent of social jutice, democracy, and praxis, “power to the people” is what we all hope for. Meanwhile, Ulises Mejias has turned me on to the idea of “power laws” expressed in Barabasi’s work Linked: The new science of networks. One of the ideas I am working on articulating as a result is the concept of what I want to call “digital agency,” i.e., the power of people to connect, collaborate, organize and socialize via computer mediated networks is mediated through a handful sites, a small fraction of the potential nodes actually available. Thus the power of the people is actually under the influence of a handful of people. Wikipedia is not a free-for-all, there are people behind the scenes mediating/controlling what stays and what goes. This is what I want to call digital agency, the power actors have to create, change and influence events online is limited to a minority rather than the majority.
      Your thoughts?