S1E3 – B: Power dynamics within Relational Spaces.

Time to explore the undeniable power dynamics that exist within all relational spaces. This episode bring the theory closer to important ethical concepts such as dignity and power. A must have stop in our journey towards building a robust ethical framework.

Let me make a bold statement, I am convinced that all philosophical roads must pass through the Hegelian citadel, and the DREMSI method is no exception. The process of roleplaying, as I describe it in this work, shares some of the principles of the famous dialectical process, you know the thesis – antithesis – synthesis story from Hegel. Even if there is some connection, my objective has never been to remain true and accurate with a respective philosophy but to instead get closer and practical to a significant objective.  With this in mind, connecting with the previous section on the dynamics of relational sp I’ll discuss the concepts of validation, recognition, identity and power with the clear objective to make them useful for us while reviewing ethical dilemmas.

I want to begin with the idea that roleplaying is a process of validation, a process of group recognition. To be more precise, for one to get to play a specific role an implicit recognition from internal and external stakeholders is necessary. For example, a doctor can only perform the role, if its recognised by the state with the respective degrees, and acknowledged by the patients as the doctor. A team manager can only perform the role if the team considers him/her the leader. And a restaurant can only perform the role if the guest comes with the intention to eat and the government recognize it as a business.

The interesting aspect is that this is a process of interactive co-dependency, meaning one can only play one role if someone else plays the complementary role, reciprocal validation. In a very simple manner, you can only play the doctor if you are interacting with a patient, a nurse, or another doctor. The point is that one needs a counterpart to play the role, and the tacit agreement to interact and treat each other by the role is the validation component of this theory.  I believe Professor Ralph Stacy put it perfectly when he wrote:

The Leader is constructed in the recognition of others. Leaders emerge in complex responsive process of mutual recognition”. 

We all have been there, when one is supposed to be the leader but nobody listens, when one is supposed to take the decision but nobody follows, when one is meant to get the rewards but nobody accepts it. Validation relies on actions, and is never entirely reliant on spoken words or contacts. Roleplaying is dance, in which we mutually recognize each other’s roles by our responses to their movements.

One can visualize roleplaying as a sort of “social contract”, meaning one role is legitimized by the perception and responses of the group, in other words, no group – no contract. I use the analogy of a contract because just like contracts require an exchange of some kind, roleplaying is in essence an exchange in behaviors: I am expected to perform certain activities because I am expected to have certain rights and rewards. Although social acceptance is very important, it is not the only factor that influences:

  • Can you call yourself the father of someone if you are not blood-related?
  • Can you really call yourself a doctor if you don’t heal anyone?
  • Can you be considered a taxi driver if you don’t know how to drive?

Physical traits, ability to perform, history of results, accreditations, all these aspects influence our ability to take roles and in equal degree, all these aspects emphasize the functional aspect of playing a role. As I said it before, to play a role means to play a function within a relational space and the process of validation is when the group acknowledges that you should or can indeed perform such a function.

Fulfilling one’s identity through roleplaying

Going hand in hand with the topic of validation is the concept of the fulfilment of an individual’s interest. I argue that the most common way for individuals fulfilled their interest is through roleplaying within a relational space.  And among all the interests one wants to fulfil the most meaningful one, our identity, is largely reliant on the validation from the group, on the roles we are recognised to play or have played.

To visualize it in a very mechanical way, we are a social species and we have the need and desire to be part of a group. To be part of the group means to take a role, which in turn means to play a function, to do something that everywhere recognizes within the division of labour. Our interest in taking roles is grounded in our fear of isolation, but it takes its highest format in our need for identity, our need for recognition. I believe philosopher George Mead place it nicely when he wrote:

The individual’s development of a stable personal identity is inextricably bound up with processes of socialization that depend on participation in relationships of mutual recognition.”

In a similar direction, philosopher Hegel argued:

“The struggle for recognition was the ultimate driver of human history, a force that was key to understanding the emergence of the modern world.

and Francis Fukuyama just recently provided us with a marvellous book on the topic, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment. Here he expressed:

“Much of what passes for economic motivation is, I will argue, actually rooted in the demand for recognition and therefore cannot simply be satisfied by economic means.”

To summarize my message, it’s undeniable that we have a need for socializing, identity and recognition, and this need is largely fulfilled when we roleplay, when we take active roles within the group and the group recognizes us to play such roles.

Meaning in life as a roleplaying narrative

Taking the need for identity one step further. I argue that a large part of someone’s meaning in life is actually visualized in roles. In either a role one plays or in the recognition of the stakeholders.  It is easy to see the story of humanity as a story of individuals seeking their own hero narrative… all expressed in somekind of role label: The emperor, the queen, the famous artist, the great father, the best salesman. In the same light, it is common to express our objective in life in the role we want to play, I want to be an astronaut, writer, president, doctor, movie star…etc. To consider oneself to be a great father or mother, in most instances implies a recognition from your sons, from your own parents or even from the community.

Roles are then seen by individuals as mediums to access cultural, social and material resources.  In other words, roleplaying is a vehicle for agency, because we can access resources, we can access recognition and ultimately we can access our dreams. Looking into the famous Maslow pyramid of needs,  roleplaying covers the whole spectrum, as it gives individuals safety and physiological needs with just being accepted in the group, and it satisfies belonging, recognition and even self-actualization with the formation of an identity to be proud within the group.

To clarify my point further. Although I have stressed the importance role recognition for our identities; roles are not the only thing that matter, there are many other aspects that influence identity formation. As Fukuyama said it nicely

 “We have identities defined by our race, gender, workplace, education, affinities, and nation. For many teenagers, identity forms around the specific subgenre of music that they and their friends listen to.”

Even if roleplaying doesn’t have exclusive powers on identity and meaning, the core idea is that the role we play is essential for individuals in three formats.

  • Playing a role is a medium to access tangible resources such as money
  • Playing a role is a medium to access intangible benefits such as social recognition
  • And given the importance of cultural narratives playing a role is a common part of an individual pursuing their meaning or objective in life

Power Dynamics.

Given that roleplaying is the way we humans achieve our interest, if we combine this perspective with the notion that we operate in an environment with limited resources, in which everyone has an interest but not everything is possible, It leads us to the undeniable connection between roleplaying and power dynamics, the negotiation of which interest get fulfilled, the prioritization of needs.

I call it power dynamics due to the lack of a better word, power is a concept with so many interpretations that is complicated to use.  In my case, I jump into the same “lake of ideas” presented by Ralph Stacey in his book, Strategic Management and Organisational Dynamics.  He defined:

“Power as the ability of enabling and constraining each other.”

In other words, power is strongly related to human agency, the ability to operate. Professor Stacy clarified that

“The basis of power is NEED (elias 1991).”

 So if I need you more than you need me, the power is tilted towards you,  and if I need you more than you need me, then power is on me. For example, your boss has power over you because he decides if your salary is paid or if you keep your job. The government has power over you because it is the only one that can certify your documents.  Is important to recognize that power dynamics are not always one to one, and not always asymmetrical. In some instances, you both need each other,  and in others instances, you need each other indirectly, perfectly seen in the world of politics. There is a wonderful work by Flor Avelino that provides a typology of power relationships. You can see it in this link.

Scarcity within a relational space, the real source of power

In an ideal world, everyone gets access to their interest but this is simply not possible due to environmental pressures, we are conditioned by the scarcity of resources,  which in turn lead us to develop social hierarchies as this makes the distribution of goods easier

Hierarchies, for better or worst, are the most common way to manage scarcity within a group. Let’s take an example of a company in which many people want to get promoted to a senior level. The beauty is that an organization has the power to determine its structure, in a group of 50 there can be 5 bosses with 9 employees each or 10 bosses with 4 employees each. However, structures have logical limits, there cannot be 50 bosses, and the idea of 25 bosses makes it ridiculous in application. The right structure will be influenced by many internal and external factors and at the end of the day there will only be a limited amount of Boss positions..  hence role limitations driven by social hierarchies are unavoidable. These limitations in roles and access to opportunities are one of the reasons for unequal power dynamics within a group. As Duncan MacLeod in the Immortal TV Series used to say, “There can only be one”.

Because limited access to resources and hierarchies are inherent in any system, power disbalances are everywhere within a large group. I argue that power is determined by the contextual scarcity of resources. It is not only to have the resources, but to have a sort of exclusivity on it, a monopoly power. To illustrate it, we all need water and is easy for us to get it when we live in the city, hence no merchant has strong power on us if they are selling water.. but it’s a different level of need after 6 hours walk in the desert, then you would pay anything to the water vendor. It is the contextual scarcity that builds up power discrepancy. With this said I define:

Monopoly power, as the power someone holds on another stakeholder due to a contextual exclusive access to a resource.

Relational dynamics in Relational Spaces

Connecting the importance of roleplaying in our lives (in agency, resources and identity) with the unavoidable power dynamics that apply within a relational space, I formalize three conditions of all relational spaces:

  1. Relational spaces are the place where individuals fulfil their interests, not only the obvious interest such as resources but deeper ones such as their identity or meaning of life
  2. For one to play a role, it requires a validation process. The stakeholders’ role is always bound to an internal and external validation process.
  3. Due to the “modus operandi”, contextual scarcity and wide variety of stakeholders’ interests, there are always power dynamics within all relational spaces.

These three conditions will place a strong influence on our understanding of what is an injury and will modify the intensity of certain injuries due to power dynamics. Both of these topics will be addressed in the next section where we will finally connect everything so far with Ethics and injury valuation.

NEXT: S1E3 – C: Complexity and Roleplaying Injuries

Pride by Pieter Brueghel the Elder

S1E9 – A: State Dilemmas – Announcement

Hola my dear readers, In episode nine of this series we are meant to analyse the ethical dilemmas that governments face, it has been a long journey and this is one of the last stops in this theory. While individual and business dilemmas were relatively easy to analyse using the DREMSI method, it has taken

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, The Battle of the Moneybags

S1E8 – D: Extended accountabilities

In this final section of Companies Dilemmas, we handle the controversial topic of Extended Accountabilities, aiming to define how far is a company responsible for the actions of external parties when running a business.

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, The Battle of the Moneybags

S1E8 – C: Companies and the Greater good

In this episode, we handle how companies should consider solving «Greater Good» Dilemmas such as inequality and sustainability. A very common and valid question that doesn’t have an easy answer and even at times relies more on the government and the consumer than the company in itself.

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