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Transforming Power: From Zero-Sum to Win-Win?

Author(s): Chambers, R.
Publication Date: 2006 

This article results from IDS requesting Robert Chambers to review his personal journey on reflecting upon the concept of power. By building on the questioning and qualifying of popular discourses on power, Chambers shares his insight with the reader that there is extensive unrealised potential for win-win solutions through uppers using their power over to empower.

Chambers argues that for the powerful, power over does not need to be like a zero-sum commodity; that there is nothing inherently bad about power over – it all depends on how it is used; and that the importance of bottom-up power with and power within strategies, vital and often primary though they are, should not distract from the potentials of top-down transformations using power over in ways which are win-win, with gains for the powerful as well as for those who are empowered.

According to Chambers, it is time for a complementary discourse and strategy which starts with closer engagement with and understanding of powerful people and organisations. As part of this, he highlights among others two approaches which help people to think from the decision-maker’s point of view and analysing how they can be influenced and helped. Besides, he clarifies and illustrates the gains when power over is used as a power to empower. To make powerful actors reflect upon this insight, he even suggests a ‘pedagogy for the powerful’.