The questions that open Power and Powerlessness, John Gaventa’s investigation of social peace and rebellion in a desperately poor. John Gaventa at Institute of Development Studies. John Gaventa. Institute of Development Studies. Abstract. BLDSC reference no.: D/ Thesis (D. Phil.) The Third Face of Power: John Gaventa (). Power and Powerlessness: Acquiescence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Valley.

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Why, in a social relation involving the domination of a non-elite by an elite, does challenge to that domination not occur?

John Gaventa – Wikipedia

What is there in certain situations of social deprivation that gventa issues from arising, grievances from being voiced, or interests from being recognised?

Why in an oppressed community where one might intuitively expect upheaval, does one instead find, or appear to find, quiescence?

The crisis has been a stark demonstration that economic deprivation does not necessarily impel the deprived into conflict with elites.

While revolutionists lurch from outlandish overoptimism to dark mutterings of betrayal, the once centre-left has dropped all interest in the issue, preferring positioning to power-building. And so, to better understand the actual mechanisms behind protest and acceptance, we should turn to work such as this.

Power and Powerlessness offers a detailed and powerlessness assessment of power dynamics in an Appalachian powerlessnfss, where manmade poverty sits alongside immense natural wealth. Gaventa discards moralistic and culture-based explanations for persistent social peace, arguing instead that quiescence is produced and maintained by power relations.

Also crucial is the reflexive result of action upon understanding. His case study offers ample support for these hypotheses.

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The characteristics of the area, with an absentee capitalist class, a local elite made up of intermediaries with external capital, and a narrow range of work opportunities produce strong dependence among the impoverished. The political process remained stagnant, with three elite political dynasties dominating local politics.

Fatalism pervades popular perceptions, with people tending to avoid conflict from fear of reprisal or a sense that nothing can be achieved. At its most effective, power makes adherents of the oppressed. Quiescence is self-reinforcing; the poder precedent for action, the less compelling its case, while each successive defeat lays upon the last, smothering the aspirations of the downtrodden.

On the rare occasions that struggle does emerge, other mechanisms can come into play to keep the poor at bay. When popular challenges to the status quo did emerge, it was through the development of new forms of organisation and consciousness.

Powerlsssness Communist Party-influenced National Mineworkers Union made broad inroads ;owerlessness the miners, growing with a speed and militancy that amazed the organisers.

Some thirty years later, a community centre and Community Action Board, both developing from the Kennedy-era War on Poverty, were instrumental in bringing the population into greater recognition of the power dynamics that shaped their world and a greater eagerness to change them. In the space of about five years, through a process of deciding upon and carrying out actions, definitions of interests shifted from those involving little conflict against the existing order garbage collection to the development of alternatives to that order a factory, clinics to the notion of challenging the order itself land demands … But as actions were taken by the community itself to solve its problems, it powerlessnesss further obstacles from government and corporate jogn.

The notion of contradictory interests began to be emerge, and external forces were seen as being responsible for powerlesshess conditions.


In the end, however, these and powerlessnes struggles were effectively contained by the elite. Violence, whether real or imagined, economic vulnerability and social isolation were effective tools at keeping the rebels in their place. Control of local politics could be used to orchestrate State repression, ignore vigilantism, or enable simple out-manouevring, to disempower and contain the protests.

How does change happen? A review of John Gaventa’s Power and Powerlessness

The most ignominous chapter sees the miners of the area, powetlessness the poorest in the country, colluding in the corrupt rule of W. Boyle, president of the United Mine Workers and carrying out the murder of Jock Yablonskia reform candidate who called for greater militancy and democracy.

However depressing, for radicals, defeat should be instructive, drawing poqerlessness to a better analysis. The question must interrogate the power relations that shape our world, seeing that the path to socialism is one of social empowerment, to be accomplished through the creation of lasting changes in popular organisation and consciousness. It is, in effect, the powerlessnesss of a popular subject capable of wielding power in its own interest.

How does change happen? About Dara McHugh Dara is an amateur social critic and a professional pedant. He enjoys punctuation, science-fiction and beer.

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