Theorizing power and its connection to human agency

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This talk is about the conceptualization of power and its relationship to human agency, and, by extension, psychology. Power is a complex phenomenon. My talk grapples with this complexity as a quality that needs to be explored further. On a foundational level, power, as a theoretical concept, pertains to agency, in the sense that power relates to a capacity for action that is also constitutive of agency. To explore the nature of power is therefore, to some extent, to explore the preconditions of human agency and psychology. Power pertains to a ‘power to’; a power-to be a causal agent in the world’, in which power-over relations are merely a subset (e.g., a power to dominate). However, since human ‘powers-to’ pertain to both individual and social ‘capacities’ and their interplay, discussions of power invite a discussion of social norms as both restricting and empowering. Furthermore, since power always manifests as a creation of a connection or relationship (the power-to influence ‘something/someone’) power can take different relational forms (e.g. cause-and-effect vs. reciprocal; goal-oriented vs. open-ended), with highly different political and agentic qualities.
Today, the limits of a purely causal and/or empiricist understanding of power are well known and well described. Not least, thanks to the work of Michel Foucault. However, drawing on Foucault’s’ work but also on a critical psychological conceptualization of human agency and subjectivity, I wish to revisit these limitations in ways that at the same time challenge if it makes sense to tie the ties between power and agency in the way presented by Foucault, since if we define power prober and not only its effects or modus operandum, the phenomenon of power turns out to actually require a concept of active human agency. In my talk, I present and discuss this argument.
Publikationsdato20 maj 2024
StatusUdgivet - 20 maj 2024
Begivenhed20th Conference of the International Society for Theoretical Psychology : Theory as Engagement - University of Belgrade, Faculty of Philosophy, Belgrade, Serbien
Varighed: 20 maj 202425 maj 2024
Konferencens nummer: 20


Konference20th Conference of the International Society for Theoretical Psychology
LokationUniversity of Belgrade, Faculty of Philosophy
AndetEngaged theorising has a long history, however it seems as timely and needed today as ever, particularly in psychology. It asserts that theorising is not held aside from or even in opposition to the real world – it is because we hold the world and people, their complexity, institutions, cultures, and power seriously that we need to theorise. Theorising is inclusive, it requires dedication and time, and it is always a dialogical endeavour. The beauty of theorising is that it transcends national, historical, social, and linguistic barriers while simultaneously serving as a tool for their critical examination, provided that it is respectful, honest, transparent, dialogical, and reflexive. Theory done in an engaged way creates a shift in thinking and practice that can direct social and personal transformation.<br/>


  • Power
  • concepts
  • Theory
  • Psychology from the Standpoint of the Subject

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