Networks and PowerMay 22, 2013 3 Comments
I am just coming from a convening of the Northern New England Networks Community of Practice in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire. The theme of the gathering was “Power and Networks,” and very timely in that a few network building initiatives with which I am working are reaching a fever pitch in terms of working out issues of power and privilege. Borrowing from something my IISC colleague Cynthia Silva Parker has said in the past, while power is always at the table, now it’s on the table! And I wanted to share some of the gleanings from the overall session.
My mental point of departure in the conversations in New Hampshire was that power in and of itself is not a bad thing. It can be both generative and degenerative. Another IISC colleague and blogger in this space, Linda Guinee, has posted some very helpful pieces on power (see “What is Power Anyway?” and “Where Does Power Come From?”). From her, the thinkers upon which she draws, and my own experience, I have come (in an ever-evolving way) to see power basically as both “the capacity to produce change” (Jean Baker Miller) and “the drive of everything to realize itself” (Paul Tillich). In other words, it is something that emanates from each being and is also socially constructed. Another operating assumption is that power is not fixed or finite, and that it plays out in different ways (there are different kinds and sources of power).
A big part of the Community of Practice conversation hovered indirectly around the question of how we keep power generative in networks. This is some of what was offered.
- Name it (power), up front, and in its different dimensions.
- Be aware of who is in the core and the periphery of the network (practically and values-wise).
- Continuously cultivate transparency and trust.
- Be wary of trying to embrace “structurelessness,” which can simply privilege the privileged in unacknowledged ways.
- Avoid force-fitting and trying to merge everything and everyone into one (as Mary Parker Follett once wrote, “Unity, not uniformity, must be our aim. We attain unity only through variety. Differences must be integrated, not annihilated, not absorbed.”
- Understand the difference between diversity, inclusion, and equity (see page 2 of this D5 Coalition report for some helpful distinctions).
- Understand that talking about “the grasstops”, “the grassroots” and “the community” is not always helpful. Sometimes this can mask more nuanced dynamics or be code for talking about things like race and class. Break it down.
- Connect, connect, connect.
What else? Help us to continue the conversation . . .