Power is arguably the key concept for both politics and feminism. For many, politics is defined by its study of power relations. Feminism too is about studying, understanding, transforming, dismantling or reworking gendered power relations. Feminist interest in the transformative aspect of power means that these scholars wish not only to understand the extent to which political processes, institutions, actors and policies (re) produce gender power relations, but also to criticize these power inequalities and to explore how all the former could be changed in order to create more gender-equal society. Amy Allen (1999) suggests that a feminist conception of power needs to account for complex and interrelated forms of masculine domination (power-over); women’s empowerment and resistance to such domination (power-to); and, finally, solidarity as women’s ability to act together to transform inequality structures with collective power (power-with) (Allen 1999: 122). The focus on individual and collective empowerment in the context of domination and the ability to act for progressive change is, according to her, one of the key contributions of feminist theory. While many would intuitively agree with this account, gender and politics scholars, however, differ in their interpretations about how these forms of power are best analysed and approached. Again the ways in which we understand power shapes fundamentally what we study and how we do it.
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