Ricerca del Potere

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Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)

The powers of ordinary men are circumscribed by the everyday worlds in which they live, yet even in these rounds of job, family, and neighborhood they often seem driven by forces they can neither understand nor govern. — C. Wright Mills

In 1956 sociologist C. Wright Mills' The Power Elite provided an in-depth examination of power in the United States. About a decade later, in 1967, G. William Domhoff wrote Who Rules America? which was followed by Who Rules America Now? in 1983. As one might expect, these books contained a detailed analysis of who has power, how the power is exercised and through what routes the powerful came to their positions. To some degree, the who of "who has power" is not as relevant as what they do with it and how they came to possess it. Their routes to power were so uniform as to suggest that specific, repeatable social mechanisms were at work to ensure that the same type of person, with the same ideologies would be elevated to these positions — and that other people from other circumstances would be denied entrance.

That social mechanisms are at play is of course not news to sociologists who make it their business to understand these mechanisms. The rest of us have vague suspicions but little concrete knowledge. Although the powerful may be visible to some degree the representations that we witness in the media are likely to be sanitized, scrubbed clean of improprieties, stereotyped and otherwise rendered useless for thoughtful consideration. This knowledge is vital to all participants in a democratic society. Knowing who and how people who occupy the seats of power wield the levers of social control is key to positive social change.

While the work of Mills and Domhoff have uncovered the processes of the maintenance of power in America, it is undoubtedly the case that similar processes are being played out every day around the world. For that reason, it's imperative that these studies be undertaken throughout the world. The point of gaining an understanding of these processes is not to insert different people into the process (although in many cases this is desirable). Nor do we gain this understanding in order to derail the entire system or to just "throw the bastards out." (After all, in some cases the people holding power may not be scoundrels!) An understanding of the process will help us adjust the system as necessary, know where the points of intervention exist and, in general, increase the level of awareness thus making it more difficult for the people with less power to be bamboozled by those with more.

There are many exciting examples of this pattern. One particularly compelling one is based on the Reflect theory. It combines adult learning and social change using the theories of Paulo Freire integrated with participatory methodologies. Their report on Communication and Power describes how written and spoken word, images and numbers can be used by villagers in India (see figure below) in analyses of caste power.

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Potenti persone e organizzazioni tendono ad abusare del loro potere. Senza capire chi ha il potere, come il potere e' gestito e come quel potere puo' essere mantenuto all'interno di limiti legittimati, le persone con meno potere possono essere ignorate, truffate, trascinate in guerra o trattate in maniera scorretta in generale.

La ricerca del potere - che cos'e', com'e' organizzato e applicato e chi lo ha. Nonostante sia importante rendere le scoperte di accesso libero, e' allo stesso modo importante disseminare le idee e le tecniche che possano aiutare le persone a far partire i loro stessi progetti di ricerca. Questo pattern si applica in particolare al governo e alle corporazioni ma anche altre persone, istituzioni e gruppi (come hate groups, milizie o famiglie di crimine organizzato) devono essere accuratamente investigati.

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Image: ActionAid