Power, Empowerment and Social Change: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Power, Empowerment and Social Change

1st Edition

Edited by Rosemary McGee, Jethro Pettit


258 pages | 8 B/W Illus.

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Paperback: 9781138575318
pub: 2019-11-06
Hardback: 9781138575301
pub: 2019-11-05
eBook (VitalSource) : 9781351272322
pub: 2019-10-21
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This book uncovers how power operates around the world, and how it can be resisted or transformed through empowered collective action and social leadership. The stakes have never been higher. Recent years have seen a rapid escalation of inequalities, the rise of new global powers and corporate interests, increasing impunity of human rights violations, suppression of civil society, and a re-shaping of democratic processes by post-truth, populist and nationalist politics.

Rather than looking at power through the lenses of agency or structure alone, this book views power and empowerment as complex and multidimensional societal processes, defined by pervasive social norms, conditions, constraints and opportunities. Bridging theory and practice, the book explores real-world applications using a selection of frameworks, tools, case studies, examples, resources and reflections from experience to support actors to analyse their positioning and align themselves with progressive social forces.

Compiled with social change practitioners, students and scholars in mind, Power, Empowerment and Social Change is the perfect volume for anyone involved in politics, international development, sociology, human rights and environmental justice who is looking for fresh insights for transforming power in favour of relatively less powerful people.


"A bold and compelling exploration of how power works in the context of today’s social, political and environmental crises – looking beyond the usual political economy and behaviourist lenses – and offering fresh ideas and reflections from activism on how theory and practice can be joined up to strengthen movements for justice and human rights."Andrea Cornwall, Professor at SOAS, University of London, UK

"Like power itself, ideas about power are contested terrain. This timely collection effectively bridges theory and practice to inform a much-needed rethink of relevant conceptual frameworks, grounded in the authors’ extensive hands-on experience with action-research, popular education and frontline empirical research."Jonathan Fox, Professor at the Accountability Research Center, American University, USA

"Through a range of chapters, Power, Empowerment and Social change examines the nature and effect of the arbitrary use of power in contemporary democracies. The book draws upon a dialectic of practice and theory that helps dissect and expose the manipulation of democracy by ruling elites. More importantly, the essays acknowledge and illustrate the inherent power and creativity in people’s struggles for justice and equality. Without these principles, there is no future." Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey, MKSS (Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan), India

"This book is an exciting collection of chapters, which draws together theoretical and empirical work on power. The overall theoretical approach is grounded in a sophisticated understanding of the multi-dimensional nature of power relations. I highly recommend this collection to anyone who wishes to understand the complex relationship between power as domination and power as empowerment. It is ideal for both social scientists and social activists."Mark Haugaard, Professor at the School of Political Science and Sociology, National University of Ireland, Galway

"This book contains many truly impressive essays – some more theoretical, others more empirical. It makes a significant contribution to live debates about how to understand how power works. It should reveal to readers, including scholars, what an important and distinctive contribution activist researchers can make to revealing the hidden dimension of power relations and also to empowerment, by exploring strategies for successful resistance to domination and oppression across the world."Steven Lukes. Professor of Sociology, New York University

"The power literature in social and political theory often fails to engage the insights of those who study power relations on the ground and those who organize and act collectively to change them. This important new collection brings theories of power into conversation with empirical research in conflict areas, and with the insights of activists, teachers, and others who work to transform unjust power relations." – Clarissa Rile Hayward, Professor of Political Science, Washington University, St. Louis

"Africa's Agenda 2063 aims at fostering ‘the Africa we want’. Women leaders are minded to hold onto to the liberation ideology of the Pan-Africa movement of the early 20th century. Now confronted with some of the most rabid extremes of inequality and suppression of the rights of women and girls anywhere in world, new thinking and strategies are needed. This book provides empirical learning on how we could view power relations and collective action, in an age of growing opposition from young Africans who are demanding for voice and participation on the continent but are faced with shrinking spaces for transformation." – Nkoyo Toyo, Chairperson of the African Women Leaders Network, Nigeria

"As a feminist grass root organizer, this book confirms my thinking regarding the complexity and challenges faced by those of us who work within the contemporary lived realities of poor women. Unlike many academic outputs, it combines and bridges theory, frameworks and experiences, so is easy to read and understand for practitioners as well as scholars. I strongly recommend it to activists and organizers working at the grassroots, to stimulate their strategic thinking and responses to the difficult situations they work in." – Nani Zulminarni, Founder and Director of PEKKA – Women Headed Family Empowerment, Indonesia

Table of Contents

Part I

1.0 Introduction: power, empowerment and social change Jethro Pettit and Rosemary McGee

Part II Conceptual and theoretical groundings and debates

2.1. Plus ça change…? Shifting power in a disorienting moment Lisa VeneKlasen

2.2 Finding community: the power of unruliness Patta Scott-Villiers

2.3 Rethinking accountability: a power perspective Rosemary McGee

2.4 Transforming power with embodied practice Jethro Pettit

2.5 Towards a political practice of empowerment in digital times: a feminist commentary from the Global South Anita Gurumurthy and Nandini Chami

Part III Analysing power and empowerment: frameworks and approaches

3.1 Did we forget about power? Reintroducing concepts of power for justice, equality and peace Alexa Bradley

3.2 Applying power analysis: using the ‘Powercube’ to explore forms, levels and spaces John Gaventa

3.3 Critical reflections on shifting the toxic alchemy of institutional power Aruna Rao and Joanne Sandler

3.4 Finding the right power tool(s) for the job: rendering the invisible visible Jo Rowlands

Part IV Understanding agency: social action for shifting power

4.1 Power and agency in violent settings Marjoke Oosterom

4.2. Micro-level analysis of power and its relevance for practice Walter Flores

4.3 Environmental defenders: courage, territory and power Fran Lambrick

4.4 The decolonising Zapatista revolution Raúl Zibechi

Part V Learning and unlearning power for reflective social action

5.1 Learning about power in a Masters for reflective social change practitioners Rosemary McGee with Jethro Pettit and Fiammetta Wegner

5.2 Reflexive aid practice: naming and dealing with power Rosalind Eyben

5.3 Consciousness-raising, intersectionality, and movement building for social transformation Mariela Arce Andrade and Valerie Miller

About the Editors

Rosemary McGee is a Senior Research Fellow in the Power and Popular Politics Cluster, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, UK.

Jethro Pettit is a freelance consultant, facilitator and former Director of Teaching and Learning at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, UK

About the Series

Rethinking Development

Rethinking Development offers accessible and thought-provoking overviews of contemporary topics in international development and aid. Providing original empirical and analytical insights, the books in this series push thinking in new directions by challenging current conceptualizations and developing new ones.  

This is a dynamic and inspiring series for all those engaged with today’s debates surrounding development issues, whether they be students, scholars, policy makers and practitioners internationally. These interdisciplinary books provide an invaluable resource for discussion in advanced undergraduate and postgraduate courses in development studies as well as in anthropology, economics, politics, geography, media studies and sociology.

To submit proposals, please contact the Development Studies Editor, Helena Hurd ([email protected]).

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Development / Economic Development
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Developing Countries