2.8.2 Flows of Power

Although we are accustomed to thinking of power which flows from the top downwards, other flows of power may be bottom-up or shared

Different situations determine the appropriate direction for power to flow:

●  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 are two-way flows 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.



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/282.htm.