Friday, September 09, 2005

Paul Kivel: Learning to Recognize the Culture of Power

(an excerpt)

It is important that we learn to recognize the culture of power in our organizations so that we can challenge the hierarchy of power it represents and the confinement of some groups of people to its

Assessing the Culture of Power in Your Organization

What does the culture of power look like in your organizations? What does it look like in your office or area where you work? In your school or classroom? In our living room or living space? In our congregation? Where you shop for clothes? In agencies whose services you use?

The following questions can be used to identify cultures of power based on gender, class, sexual orientation, religion, age, race, language, physical ability, immigrant status, or education:

1. Who is in authority?

2. Who has credibility? Whose words and ideas are listened to with most attention and respect?

3. Who is treated with full respect?

4. Whose experience is valued?

5. Whose voices are heard?

6. Who has access to or is given important information?

7. Who talks most at meetings?

8. Whose ideas are given importance?

9. Who is assigned to or expected to take on background roles?

10. How is the space designed? Who has physical access?

11. What is on the walls?

12. What languages are used? Which are acceptable?

13. What music and food are available?

14. How much are different people paid? How are prices determined?

15. Who cleans up?

16. Who makes decisions?

Every person has the right to complete respect, equitable access, and full participation. Anything less limits the effectiveness of an organization by denying it the contributions-the experiences, insights and creative input-of those individuals and groups excluded or discriminated against.

Those inside the culture of power rarely notice it, while those excluded are often acutely sensitive to how they and others are being marginalized. Therefore leadership in efforts to eliminate the culture of power needs to come from those in excluded or marginalized groups. Unless they are in leadership positions with sufficient respect, status, and authority, the organization's efforts to change will be token, insufficient, and have limited effectiveness.

As they become better at identifying patterns of exclusion, people from within the culture of power can learn to take leadership in identifying marginalizing practices so the organization doesn't have to rely as much on people at the margins to do this work. Although groups will always need to look to the insights of people at the margins to completely identify how systems of oppression are currently operating, there is an important role for those inside the culture of power to take leadership as allies of those excluded. They can challenge the status quo and educate other "insiders" who are resistant to change. It is precisely because they have more credibility, status, and access that people on the inside make good allies. They can do this best not by speaking for or representing those marginalized, but by challenging the status quo and opening up opportunities for others to step forward and speak for themselves.

Every institution of higher education has a culture of power. Each department, division, school, program, and office within it has its own subculture of power. These may not be consistent or overlapping. The university may have an educated white male administration while the women's studies department has a middle-class white woman's culture of power which excluded poor and working-class white women and women of color of all classes. To be in opposition to the prevailing culture of power does not preclude us from creating subcultures of power that, in turn, exclude others who are even more marginalized than we are.

We have a responsibility, as people who have had access to educational opportunities, to not let the fact that we are on the inside of a culture of power deny educational opportunities to those who are on the outside. We need to fight for equal opportunity and full access and inclusion not just for those groups of which we are a part but also for groups to which we do not belong. For most of us that responsibility means listening to those on the margins, acknowledging our inside status compared with some other groups, and acknowledging out access to power, our resources, and our privileges. Then we can work with others to use our power, resources, and privileges to open up the educational structures to those who continue to knock on the doors.

One of our goals should be to create organizations and institutions that embrace an internal culture of full inclusion and whose members are trained to think critically about how the culture of power operates. We each have a role to play; we each have much to contribute to create such organizations; and we each must push every group we are a part of to move from a culture of power to a culture of inclusion.

Rest of the Essay


memsamechnun said...

link to essay broken

Michael Benton said...

Thanks--I'm fixing it now