OTPIC Officially Retired

As of December 2, 2005, the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflict (OTPIC) has been officially retired, and is no longer open to new registrations.

The successor to OTPIC is a course called Dealing Constructively with Intractable Conflicts (DCIC). The new curriculum is built around one of our major projects, Beyond Intractability, and offers a much more extensive and informative set of learning materials than that available through OTPIC.

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International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict

Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA

The Nature of Power


Power can be defined in many ways. Most simply, it is the ability to get what you want, or as scholar Kenneth Boulding said, power is "the ability to change the future." Some scholars make a distinction between three kinds of power-- "power over," "power to" and "power with." "Power over" is the ability to dominate another person or group--as in "I have power over him. This means, "I have the ability to make him do what I want him to do." Power-over usually comes from force and threat. If the subordinate fails to do what he or she is asked to do, the dominant person will use force to make the subordinate person comply.

"Power to" is the ability to do something on one’s own--it refers to one’s abilities. Sources of this kind of power are intellect, resources, knowledge, stamina, etc. These resources give some people the power to accomplish things that others cannot.

"Power with" is similar to "power to" in that it reflects ability, but "power with" is the ability to work with others to get something done by cooperation. This is the power of consensus--the power of people working together to solve a common problem.

These distinctions are similar to the ones made by Kenneth Boulding in his theory of power. Boulding said power has three forms--threat, exchange, and love. Threat power is equivalent to "power over." Exchange power is the power of negotiation--it is a form of "power with," as it requires another party to negotiate with. Love, Boulding argued, is also a form of power. Although not often recognized as power, when people love each other, they do things to help the other person, just because they love them, not for any particular reward or hope of exchange. This gives rise to what Boulding calls "the integrative system"--the structure of bonds, of respect, of legitimacy that holds social groups and whole societies together. This is the form of power that underlies persuasion--people can be persuaded to change their behavior if a convincing argument can be made that corresponds with an opponent’s belief system (or changes that belief system through love or respect).

Although most people tend to think of power only in terms of "power over," often the most effective conflict strategy is a mix of all three types of power--what we have called the "power strategy mix." This involves the use of some force, some exchange (or negotiation) and some persuasion. How much of each is best varies from one situation to the next, depending on the people to be influenced and the nature of the problem itself.

 For further reading on the concept of power, see Boulding, 1989; Sharp 1973, Vol. 1


Copyright 1998 Conflict Research Consortium  -- Contact: crc@colorado.edu