What Are Power Dynamics? (Meaning & Examples)

Power dynamics are an issue of tremendous social import. The power distribution in a society and amongst people can have a great impact on the lives and circumstances of people around the world.

So, what exactly does this phrase mean? And in which circumstances can power dynamics develop?

What Are Power Dynamics?

“Power dynamics” refer to the degree of influence or control one person, or group of people, can exercise over another person or group of people. There are various types of power, which may impact the various types of relationships and interrelationships between people, whether personally or systemically.

what are power dynamics

“Power” has become the topic of a great deal of social commentary in recent times and has been a relevant issue for a number of centuries.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines “power” as “the ability to control people and events”. It defines “dynamics” as “forces or processes that produce change inside a group or system”.

With these definitions in mind, we can guess that the phrase “power dynamics” refers to how power, or the capacity to exercise some form of control, produces change within and among groups in society.

What Are Power Dynamics in a Relationship?

“Power dynamics” in the context of a relationship has to do with the degree of control one person in the relationship may have or exercise over the other person in that relationship.

Whether familial, romantic, or platonic, there are bound to be certain power dynamics at play in any relationships between people.

Because children need guidance and care, their parents are often responsible for exercising some level of control and influence over them. This is an example of a power dynamic between the parent and child.

From this example, you can see that there is nothing inherently wrong with power dynamics. However, in certain circumstances, these kinds of dynamics can create toxicity.

Consider the following sentence:

  • Financial independence can reduce the formation of unhealthy power dynamics in a relationship.

This sentence likely refers to a romantic relationship. These kinds of relationships generally take place between two, consenting adults.

When one partner in a relationship has a surplus of power over the other partner, this can be used to exercise unhealthy control over the other partner. This can lead to unhealthy relationship dynamics.

What Are Power Dynamics in Society?

“Power dynamics”, in a particular society, refer to the degree of control some members of that society may exercise over other members of that society.

  • If we want to create meaningful change in our society, we should tackle the power dynamics currently at play.

Most, if not all, societies are made up of numerous groups. These groups can be based on age, gender, race, class, or any other characteristics.

A power imbalance may form in a society where one of these groups acquires more political, economic, or social power. Often, this would be the political leaders and other important branches within a society.

However, power may be attributed to groups within a society for arbitrary purposes, such as historical legacies or unfair exploitation of other groups.

Oppression occurs when a group with a surplus of power exercises unfair influence or control over other groups, which may have less power.

What Are Power Dynamics in the Workplace?

Power dynamics in a workplace are often most keenly seen in employer-employee relationships. Because employers have control over the position and wages of employees, a power dynamic inevitably develops.

Consider the following sentence:

  • We have formed a trade union to ensure that employers cannot take advantage of the one-sided power dynamics that are inherent in the workplace.

Employees in organizations are often in a precarious position. They rely on their jobs to survive, which means that their employers have a great deal of power over their circumstances and finances.

Although employers need their employees, they maintain control over the salaries, hours, and working conditions of employees, which is a great deal of power.

When employers abuse these power dynamics, employees often suffer as a result. It is for this reason that trade unions and workers’ unions are formed. These associations are built with employee rights in mind and are designed to extinguish unfair power imbalances in the workplace.

What Are Power Dynamics in Research?

Whatever the field or topic, research is often funded by certain institutions. A power dynamic can form in these circumstances, as researchers may be pressured to return results that are to the benefit of their funding institution.

  • The Old Sport institution has threatened to cut our funding if we don’t explain away our findings.

In short, researchers in any field need financial support to carry out their tasks. Research often requires travel, equipment, and various other resources. So, how to researchers receive funding?

Generally, they’ll approach a wealthy institution, university, or organization to receive funding. They’ll make their case and explain why said institute should take an interest in, and ultimately fund, their work.

Herein lies the problem. Since researchers rely on these institutions to fund their work, a power dynamic is formed. The institute acquires power over the fate and work of these researchers and may use this power to manipulate the results according to their own interests.

Are Power Dynamics Good?

Power dynamics are not necessarily bad. However, if the side with a surplus of power abuses said power, this can result in oppression and toxicity.

In some situations, power dynamics are necessary. Members of the government should exercise some control over the citizens of a society. Parents must exercise control over their children.

However, power dynamics may be abused in practice, and the results are often devastating to the group subject to that control.

Final Thoughts

Power dynamics are a highly complex issue. They refer to the control or influence that one group can exercise over another. In some cases, they are inevitable and necessary. But when a power imbalance develops within a dynamic, there are often societal consequences.