two thoughts on power and networks

‚Äča couple of weeks ago we were having a conversation at work about something and my colleage, curtis ogden, said two things that stuck with me. he regularly says things that stick with me for a long time so here’s just these two:

“it’s not just about empowering, but also about working with power.”

this really reasonated with me because i find myself in a very specific conceptual loop regarding social change work [link to future post about non-profit work and lukes’ three dimensions of power]. the loop goes like this: oppression exists. the oppressed attempt to liberate themselves. the oppressors give a little wiggle room, but ultimately just shift and deepen their oppressive tactics (usually first by allowing some legal changes to be made, but then by creating backlash and new systems of oppressions - example: the prison industrial complex as an evolution of slavery).

empowering is imporatnt, but working with existing power seems necessary as well. making change from the bottom up without also changing people at the top seems somewhat futile. history seems to indicate this.

“not just about creating networks but tapping INTO the fact that life IS already networks.”

part of the work at IISC is about giving people systems and network thinking tools and skills. but sometimes people who are new to this imagine that it’s something new. curtis rightly points out that networks are not new. life already exists and operates in networks. forests, oceans, deserts, pretty much all ecosystems have networked structure.

so the work of seeing our activities through a network lens isn’t new. it’s more like throwing off the problematic narrowness of western individualism and the desire to dissect and analyze piece by piece (that’s not an elegant phrasing, but is there a word that is the opposite of holistic?).