August 2017 / Kim Andreas Kessler, Academic Trainee, Quality Assurance and Poverty Reduction Section, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)
Power analysis is well established in twenty-first century development work. Power operates at different levels (local, national, global) and appears in different forms. While most development practitioners are familiar with visible and hidden power, invisible power is much less known. This knowledge gap can be attributed to the nature of invisible power itself:
Many argue that ‘invisible power’ shapes the way people understand and act upon development issues.
What is Invisible Power?People tend to adopt dominant language, values and behavioural norms through invisible power. For people living in poverty, invisible power can therefore lead to the acceptance of an unjust or unequal status quo as a ‘normal’ practice.
In other words, the internalisation of language, values or norms can shape people’s awareness and ultimate understanding of policies and legal rights. This may prevent people living in poverty from realizing or fight for their rights. The same mechanism operates for powerful elites, who are able to reproduce certain norms, prejudices or ideologies through invisible power in order to maintain their powerful and favourable positions.
Invisible Power in the Water Domain As part of the
Collaboration between the SDC QA/Poverty Reduction Section and the Institute of Development Studies, a session on invisible power was organised at the Water Team Days 2017 in Bern, Switzerland. The session introduced invisible power and reviewed different examples of water programmes/projects at global, regional, and local level from an invisible power perspective.
For more information on this session, please see:- Briefing Note- Reflective Report of the Session on Invisible Power- Blog on the Water Teams Days 2017 Sessions
Conclusion Invisible power can be translated into ‘power of the unquestioned’. In other words, an invisible power lens can explain why certain issues are not on development agendas and remain unchanged for a long time.
Practical ImplicationsOn the basis of the above, development agents should critically and constantly reflect how they contribute to the maintenance of the status quo and the perpetuation of norms instead of fostering change for the betterment of people’s lives. This can be realized by: