(Or: How I learned to love micro-power dynamics)
Ever noticed in human relationships how often one person or group of people have more power than the other?
It’s true on a macro level – in the US, whites have more power than others as a whole. Men have more power than women. Adults have more power than children. The rich have more power than the poor. The Global North (first-world nations primarily located in the Northern Hemisphere) has far more power than the Global South (developing nations primarily located in the Southern Hemisphere). And so on.
But it’s also true on a micro level – one neighborhood’s residents have more power than another’s, a manager has more power than an employee, etc. The power dynamics populate on down to the supermicro level – in one-on-one human relationships. You all know what I’m talking about. The relationship power struggle can be romantic – she changes her tastes to suit his or he swaps his social group for hers – or platonic, where one friend makes the decisions about where to go and what to do, while the other simply tags along.
Among friends, who often keep up a pretense of not “keeping score,” it can be seen in who extends the most invitations. Who goes to whose house? Who is put out the most the majority of the time? Who crosses bridges and rivers to visit the other? Who chooses the movie, the bar, the restaurant? Who leads the conversation? Who do the two of you talk about the most? The power dynamics often fall along class lines – when there is a class division in a relationship, whether it be romantic or otherwise, the member with the higher class gets the power. Usually without much of a struggle.
|You can read some of this
highly worthwhile book
at the New York Times.
I first learned of this phenomenon when I bought a book called “Class Matters.” There was a whole chapter on marriages formed of two people from different classes and the power dynamics of their relationships – those of the upper echelons controlled the couples’ finances, among other things. It’s interesting, once you know about this, to observe how your own friends’ and acquaintances’ backgrounds affect their personal dynamics. An inherently outgoing friend may become shy around certain others because of his or her perceived inferiority, or a naturally quiet type may become bossy and outgoing around friends whose perceived socioeconomic status is lower.
Fascinating, I tell you. Sick, but fascinating. Have you ever noticed this in your own life? At work or in a romantic relationship or a friendship? What do you think would happen if you tried to bring it up in conversation? And, to my sociologically-inclined readers, is there an official word or phrase for this phenomenon?