Working across spaces, levels and forms

While analysing power along any of its dimensions of space, level and form may be useful, it is equally important to recognize that these also interact with each other. Not only does each of the concepts along a single dimension of power interact with the other, but they may also interact with concepts in the other dimensions as well.interactive powercube

This poses significant challenges for strategies which are seeking to analyse power and change power relations. Along each dimension, any sustained and effective change strategy must concern itself with how to build and sustain effective change across the full continuum.  Transformative, fundamental change happens in those rare moments when social movements or social actors are able to work effectively across each of the dimensions simultaneously. When they are able to link the demands for opening previously closed spaces with people’s action in their own spaces, span across local and global action, and challenge visible, hidden and invisible power simultaneously. Successful change requires thinking not only about strategies along one dimension of the powercube but also about how each dimension relates to the other.

Linking strategies for change across the three dimensions of the power cube is a huge challenge, both within each of the dimensions, but also made more difficult by their interaction.  For instance, along the spaces dimension, while many groups seeking action work either on opening closed spaces through demanding more transparency or supporting internal reform, or on building social movements and mobilization in claimed space, much research suggests that it is effective when horizontal alliances are built across these spaces that real change occurs. Similarly, advocacy and change strategies must often build vertical alliances across local, national and global levels to make sure that changes are meaningful at each level. And, those seeking not only to influence policies in the public arena, but also to change power relations more fundamentally, must simultaneously think about winning the issue, mobilizing to broaden the political space, and building awareness of those who are excluded. Rather than any single strategy, an ensemble of strategies, which work together and not against each other, are required to fully challenge these sets of power relationships.

Moreover, while it is difficult enough for those seeking change to work across the range of any single dimension of the powercube, in fact, the dimensions are simultaneously interacting to affect the other. Strategies for alignment along one axis may contribute to mis-alignment on another.  The local, national, and global agenda affects the opening and closure of invited spaces; the visibility of power is shaped by who creates the space; in turn prior participatory experiences which have helped to overcome forms of invisible and hidden power may strengthen the possibilities for success of new institutional designs for participation. By the same token, the rapid opening of invited or claimed spaces without prior strategic efforts to address hidden and invisible power, or to build ‘power within’ (dignity and self-worth) and ‘power with’ (collective understanding and action), may result in hollow victories as new spaces succumb to old forms of power.

For any given issue or action, there is no single strategy or entry point. Much depends on navigating the intersection of the relationships, which in turn can either contribute to new mis-alignments and distortions of power, or simultaneously creates new boundaries of possibility for strategic action.  For instance, linking local-national-global campaigns to open up previously closed spaces may be important, but in so doing, they may re-enforce forms of hidden and invisible power, if they simultaneously exclude certain potential actors or forms of knowledge. On the other hand, the opening of previously closed local spaces can contribute to new mobilizations and conscientisation, which may have the potential to open other spaces more widely, and to create momentum for change at national or global levels.  The process of change is constantly dynamic – requiring strategies which allow constant reflection on how power relations are changing and the agility to move across shifting spaces, levels and forms of power.

This suggests that those seeking to challenge power in all of its spaces, levels and forms need to search not for one solution, but to build multiple, linked strategies and in different sequences, depending on the starting point in any given context. The challenge is to understand what these strategies might be, and how they can be linked, to address all of the dimensions of power. That’s when transformative change might really occur.

For an example of an attempt to work across multiple dimensions of power simultaneously, read the case study of the Jubilee Debt Campaign.

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