One of three types of power presented by Starhawk in her books Truth or Dare and Dreaming the Dark. Power-over is what Starhawk calls the traditional view of power, that power is one's ability to control one's surroundings or another's actions or beliefs. Starhawk then defines a second type of power, power-from-within, that is tied to one's own unique abilities, potential, and inherent worth as a person. The third type of power is power-with, or the influence one exerts with one's peers based on mutual respect.

"Power-over is linked to domination and control...[it] comes from the consciousness I have termed estrangement: the view of the world as made up of atomized, nonliving parts, mechanically interacting, valued not for what they inherently are but only in relation to some outside standard...Power-over enables one individual or group to make the decisions that affect others, and to enforce control."
-- Starhawk, Truth or Dare, p. 9

This view of power is completely embedded in our culture, to the extent that it is considered self-evident - "common sense is communal sense". It seems obvious to us that power equals control, and those with more ability to control others have more power. In fact, it's often hard to conceive of any other sort of power. However, just by defining power as something which one person has over another is giving legitimacy to the idea that one person should have power over another, or at the very least normalizing it, so that it no longer seems odd to us that people "in power" are given the authority to direct other people and make decisions for them. This is the power of language and ideas to shape our experience of ourselves and our lives. (This is all from a decidedly postmodern perspective, of course.)

Social movements that aim to rectify inequalities or injustices will ultimately fail if they do not challance the structure within which the inequalities are imbedded. This is the failure of most revolutions: the dictator, czar, king, etc is killed because he was abusing his power, and then the revolutionaries set up shop and are soon abusing their power.

Another example is the phenomenon of "Eco-Nazis" - people who are environmentalists but who nitpick other people's shopping decisions or compete to be the most righteously "Green". What they haven't worked out is that the institutions that allow for the exploitation of our planet for profit are inseparably embedded in the systems of oppression that teach us that we are never good enough and that we have to be constantly in competetition with each other for legitimacy, power, money, etc. (This is a basic tenent of ecofeminism and deep ecology.)

But no movement will truly subvert the systems of oppression if it does not also subvert the paradigm of patriarchy and estrangement. Audre Lorde summed it up as "The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house."

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