Blogging the Theoretical

Power by Maddy Lavelle

September 23, 2011 · No Comments

In Patricia Hill Collins’ piece, Black Feminist Thought she discusses the role of power in relation to Black feminism in today’s world. In Chapter 12 she introduces two approaches to power, the dialectical approach and the individual approach. Collins also presents the four domains of power that any matrix of domination is organized with, and how these approaches and domains influence Black feminism of today’s’ society.

The first approach to power is the dialectical approach links oppression and activism together, when groups that have more power than others use their power to oppress institutions with less power than them. The change that results from this approach comes from people’s ability and freedom to do so. (292) The dialectical approach emphasizes the significance of knowledge in developing self-defined, group-based standpoints that, in turn, can foster the type of group solidarity necessary for resisting oppressions.” (293) The other approach Hill Collins’ describes is the individual approach. This approach is an “intangible entity that circulates within a particular matrix of domination and to which individuals stand in varying relationships.” (292) This emphasizes how individuals’ subjectivity influences their actions within various matrixes of domination. As each Black woman changes her ideas and viewpoints, the shape of power also changes with her. Over time the “individual self-definitions and behaviors shift in tandem with a changed consciousness concerning everyday lived experiences” which exemplifies the individual approach. (293) Together these two approaches work to help create a well-rounded sense of Black women’s identities.

The first domain of power is structural; it involves how social institutions are organized overtime to subordinate Black women. For example, the schools and education system, housing and media have worked as structural institutions to belittle Black women and keep them at a disadvantage. “These overlapping social institutions have relied on multiple forms of segregation by race, class, and gender to produce these unjust results.” (295) These structural institutions have worked to oppress Black women and prevent social change. Hill Collins uses the example of life post World War II, and how African American women got jobs and obtained positions that they otherwise would not have been able to. On the flip side, the organizations and companies who hired these women sought out new ways to suppress them. (299)

The second domain is disciplinary, which means when laws force schools, industries, hospitals and banks to stop discriminating against Black women, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the organizations will follow through. “The disciplinary domain of power has increased in importance with the growing significance of bureaucracy as a mode of modern social organization.” (299) This has resulted in bureaucracy controlling the race, and gender of these organizations to prevent social change that they feel is unacceptable. So, even though laws may order institutions to stop discriminating, the buercratics of those industries will find ways around it so they can continue their mission.

The hegemonic domain of power is the third domain Collins’ touches upon, and she explains that the “hegemonic” ideology of the dominant class is what is important and is what is put forth as the “right thing.”  This being said, the hegemonic ideology is consistent with white males, and looks to oppress anyone or anything this is unlike them. This belief system makes it impossible for Black women to rise above and move up socially.

The final domain of power Collins’ puts forth is the interpersonal domain. This domain shows that intersecting oppressions has victimized African-American women and that by portraying them as passive victims creates the idea that they can’t rise above their current situation. But on the other hand, painting them as strong women shows people that they can handle what is being thrown their way, which results in others continuing to oppress them.

In conclusion, the two approaches that Collins’ highlights, the dialectical and the individual, show her audience how Black women organize their consciousness and different views of their empowerment as Black females. Also, the four domains of power each matrix of domination is organized with are seen as interconnected categories. These approaches and domains show the complexity of Black feminine power and how over time it can shift and transform into a new entity depending on the society and culture that influences the matrixes of domination

Categories: Group Three · Maddy



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