I teach an undergrad course at the University of Auckland on power.

For those interested, here's a rundown of what's in it and the core readings for students. 🧵
Power for an individual, in its most basic sense, is the capacity to bring about some desired outcome. I start here, as most contemporary theorists do, following Hobbes.

But the focus of the course is on power in social contexts. /1
As a basic introduction to the philosophical debates, I get the students to read the essay by Frank Lovett on 'Power' in ... google.co.nz/books/edition/… /2
To describe power in social contexts we need a bunch of concepts.

I follow @AAbizadeh in distinguishing between

'social power' - the capacity to achieve desired outcomes with the assistance of others and despite the resistance of others

and /3
'power over' - the capacity to cause another agent to think, desire or act as you intend.

See doi.org/10.1177/003232…

I also get the students to read some sections from Arendt's On Violence.

In thinking about power-over, it is also helpful to have in our toolkit the concepts of coercion, exploitation, domination and oppression.

COERCION occurs when threats of costs are imposed to make someone do something they wouldn't otherwise have reason to do. /5
EXPLOITATION occurs when an offer is made (not a threat) that wouldn't normally be attractive or fair but which is accepted anyway because an agent is in circumstances that practically give them no choice. /6
DOMINATION is a relational structure where the dominating party has the ability to impose their will on the dominated party, resolving conflicts of will in their favour. /7
OPPRESSION is the inhibition of agents' self-development, the diminishment of their live chances and prospects relative to others (broadly I follow Iris Marion Young here). /8
These ideas are all covered briefly in the Lovett essay. I talk about Pettit and a bunch of other material. But I get the students to read Zimmerman, "Coercive Wage Offers". /9

We often hear talk about 'power structures'. What does this mean?

I argue that the idea of power structures is a vital one. But it needs to be used with precision. /10
Some of the confusion in discussion of power structures comes from running together two things:

1. Power-conferring social systems and institutions: e.g. cultural norms, legal rules, economic systems that distribute material resources. /11
2. Power relations: the asymmetries of 'dispositional power' enjoyed by different social groups in a given context in relation to each other. For example, the relative powerlessness of oppressed groups relative to privileged groups, and hence their structural disadvantage. /12
Here I get the students to read Iris Marion Young, "Five Faces of Oppression" and Clarissa Hayward and Steven Lukes, "Nobody to Shoot?: Power, structure, and agency: A dialogue" /13

There's also an important part of this lecture where I discuss responsibility for agent oppression and structural oppression.

In addition to Young, I also discuss Sally Haslanger's "Oppressions: Racial and Other".
That's the first part of the course. (Phew!) Two more to go:
Part 2: Structures of Power
Part 3: Democracy, Resistance and the Power of Critique. /15
In the second part on structures of power, which is the social theory part of the course, I attempt to separate out five important structural elements we find ourselves, each of which affects relationships of social power and power-over. /16
CULTURE: Cultural norms and expectations in a social context can empower and disempower. As a case study, I discuss feminist analyses of subordinating gender norms drawing on de Beauvoir, Iris Young again. I also discuss @kate_manne's important work on misogyny. /17
ECONOMY: No one needs to be told that the modern capitalist economy is a power-conferring social system. My lecture on this is pretty broad ranging, with everything from @KateRaworth to David Graeber, Marx, Habermas, and Nancy Fraser. /19
The readings for this topic:
Nancy Fraser, "Rethinking Recognition" (2000)

Lisa Herzog, "What Could Be Wrong with a Mortgage? Private Debt Markets from a Perspective of Structural Injustice" (2016)
ORGANISATIONS: So much of our lives is shaped by the organisations we work for and interact with. Workplaces in particular are highly significant for the relations of power they construct. /21
In this lecture, I discuss Elizabeth Andersons's work quite a bit.

The reading is her essay "Equality and Freedom in the Workplace: Recovering Republican Insights" (2015)

THE STATE: As with the economy, everyone already knows that political and legal systems are structures of power.

In this lecture, I draw on Habermas's analysis of the 'janus faced' character of legal norms. I also discuss Foucault, Pettit, and Fraser. /23
The reading I set (honestly, where do you start?) is:
Habermas, "On the Internal Relation between the Rule of Law and Democracy" (because I can't set the whole of Between Facts and Norms)
BELIEFS: There is an 'epistemic' dimension to power. (Rainer Forst would say there is no power without belief.) The terrain of belief and discourse is the terrain in which power relations are largely determined.
The case study that I focus on here is White Ignorance.
I set Charles W. Mills's wonderful essay on the topic as reading.

Also Rainer Forst, "Noumenal Power" (2015)
The final part of the course looks at modes or resisting and reconfiguring relations of power. /27
First, we look at the power of critique. In what way does public argumentation and the contestation of ideas affect change at the level of power structures? I discuss debates about whether reason is a liberating power, or it reinforces the power dominant social groups.
Amy Allen, Rainer Forst, and Mark Haugaard, "Power and reason, justice and domination: a conversation" (2014)
Next we think about democracy as a configuration of power and as a means for the deliberate restructuring of the legal rules that govern social life. /30
To introduce some of the basic themes:
Iris Marion Young, "Democracy and Justice" in Inclusion and Democracy (2000).

@stevenmklein, "Democracy Requires Organized Collective Power" (2021)
@stevenmklein Finally, the power of activist agitation.
Activism is both a critical-communicative act, and a strategic deployment of coercion and imposition of costs.
@stevenmklein Readings:
Iris Marion Young, "Activist Challenges to Deliberative Democracy" (2001)

MLK Jr, "Letter from Birmingham Jail".

(Yes, Iris Marion Young is the hero of the course.)
@stevenmklein “The arc bends toward justice, but it only bends toward justice because people pull it towards justice. It doesn’t happen on its own.”


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More from @mathesonrussell

7 Oct
Teacher vaccine mandates are on the cards in NZ.

Should the NZ govt introduce vaccine mandates? A mega thread covering some basic ethical (not legal) considerations. 🧵
BTW, by a 'vaccine mandate', I mean a legal requirement that a person be vaccinated in order to be in some setting (e.g. bars and restaurants) or in some role (e.g. worker in MIQ). /1
First, this question is not the same as the question of whether individuals have an ethical obligation to get vaccinated. That is the easy question. For those who can safely get vaccinated, I believe the answer is yes. /2
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