2.8.2 Flows of Power

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at http://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/282.htm)

There are circumstances in which it is appropriate to flow power downwards, other cases where it flows upwards and yet others where it is shared:

  • Power can be delegated downwards in a hierarchical fashion, and such powers can also be revoked at the discretion of the higher authority. For example, national governments might delegate some responsibilities to local government or to civil society; or they might subcontract tasks to private organisations.
  • Some authority flows upwards, where power is granted for collective benefit. International institutions, for example, are empowered by national governments for specific purposes.  If the latter withdraw their support, the collective authority would be weakened.
  • Authority can be pooled by actors who have equal power and who wish to benefit from collective governance of some activities. For example, trading agreements impose a set of rules upon all the participants, but these are voluntarily entered into; the rules are set by negotiation; the power is collective; the participants remain equals; any participant can withdraw – as Britain is doing from the EU.

In practice, there is a two-way flow of power in most authority relationships.  The exertion of power depends partly upon people’s compliance with it.  And no form of authority wields unconditional power, as described in the next sub-section.

© PatternsofPower.org, 2014

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