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Empowerment and the Agency of "B"

Markus Holdo
Uppsala Universitet
Markus Holdo
Uppsala Universitet
Open Panel

Abstract

The paper explores the concept of empowerment, starting from the position that ”power” should be understood finely, yet broadly, and at the same time in a way that allows for critique of particular relations of power. The agency of ”B” concerns the ways in which a person’s actions are constrained by another actor – commonly referred to, in the ”faces-of-power-debate”, as the actor ”A” – or by social structures. Whereas many contributors to the power literature have focused on questions about the agency of ”A” – who/what is responsible, and to what degree, for limiting the freedom of ”B”? – this paper focuses instead on the agency of ”B”: what is it that ”A” is accused of limiting? The paper examines the tension between the ”Foucaultian” position, that we must resist reserving a realm of social life that is ”free”, in order to carefully analyze how social action is formed by power, and the position that power relations need to be criticized. The paper suggests a methodology of analyzing power and political freedom, based on three competing ideas of empowerment/emancipation: one moderated ”Foucaultian” idea, one ”Habermasian” idea and one ”Deweyan” idea. Neither of these ideas relies on a concept of autonomy in the liberal sense; all three of them serve the purposes of understanding and criticizing some relations of power while defending others.