Power and Empowerment Meet Resistance: A Critical, Action-Oriented Review of the Literature

Rosie McGee
Volume 47 Issue 5
Published: 25 November 2016
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.19088/1968-2016.170
Abstract: This article reviews recent literature relating resistance studies to power studies, seeking insights that can be applied by change practitioners and social activists. Starting by critically revisiting the purpose and evolution of power analysis with the hindsight that comes from two decades of scholarship and practice, it shows how the transformative potential of power analysis is currently constrained in important respects. The coverage of power theory in the resistance literature is found to be promising but patchy. Agency-based, coercive and wilful versions of power as ‘power over’ tend – with noteworthy exceptions – to be more accessible and tractable to power and resistance scholars and strategists alike than the less accessible structuralist and post-structuralist versions of power as norms, culture and discourse, or processes of structuration. The article therefore proposes a broader framing of power analysis, and makes a start at extending its application beyond strategising for empowerment to strategising for resistance.


From Issue: Vol 47, No 5 (2016) | Power, Poverty and Inequality