4 types of power: What are power over; power with; power to and power within?


(Photo: Pixabay)

When I first started as a youth worker in 1991, I was working in a medium-term accommodation unit for young people who were homeless. I really struggled with being in a position of authority having just graduated from a welfare degree that had emphasised “client self-determination.” I was really uncomfortable being in a type of parental role where I had to make decisions about what the young people could or couldn’t do, where I was responsible for behaviour management and where I had to be willing to set limits.

I was in a real position of power and I felt very uneasy about it, especially as I saw plenty of examples of power being used in quite coercive, if not abusive, ways. I had to learn ways of being in authority that were consistent with my philosophy and approach.

I was in a position of power over the residents, but I needed to learn this did not define the whole relationship, and there were other types of power that were also important which I could nurture.

A number of authors differentiate between four types of power [1-3].

  1. Power over
  2. Power with
  3. Power to
  4. Power within

Power over

Power over is how power is most commonly understood [1, 2]. This type of power is built on force, coercion, domination and control [1, 4], and motivates largely through fear [4]. This form of power is built on a belief that power is a finite resource that can be held by individuals, and that some people have power and some people do not.

Starhawk [4] argues that force, which enables one individual or group to make decisions affecting others and to take control, ultimately backs power over.

It may rule with weapons that are physical or by controlling the resources we need to live: money, food, medical care or by controlling more subtle resources: information, approval, love. We are so accustomed to power over, so steeped in its language and its implicit threats, that we often become aware of its functioning only when we see its extreme manifestations [4] (p. 9).

The other forms of power recognise that power is not owned by individuals but is a dynamic which is present in every relationship [5]. As Starhawk (1990) suggests:

Power is never static, for power is not a thing that we can hold or store, it is a movement, a relationship, a balance, fluid and changing. The power one person can wield over another is dependent on a myriad of external factors and subtle agreements (p. 268).

Power with

Power with is shared power that grows out of collaboration and relationships. It is built on respect, mutual support, shared power, solidarity, influence, empowerment and collaborative decision making [1, 2, 4, 5, 6]. Power with is linked to “social power, the influence we wield among equals” [4] (p. 9). Power with can help build bridges within groups (e.g., families, organisations, social change movements) or across differences (e.g., gender, culture, class) [1, 2]. Rather than domination and control, power with leads to collective action and the ability to act together [3].

Power to

Power to refers to the “productive or generative potential of power and the new possibilities or actions that can be created without using relationships of domination” [2] (p. 57). It is built on the “unique potential of every person to shape his or her life and world” [1] (p. 45). It is the power to make a difference, to create something new, or to achieve goals.

Power within

Power within is related to a person’s “sense of self-worth and self-knowledge; it includes an ability to recognize individual differences while respecting others” [1] (p. 45). Power within involves people having a sense of their own capacity and self-worth [2]. Power within allows people to recognise their “power to” and “power with”, and believe they can make a difference [1].

In working with families and communities, we want to nurture power with, power to and power within, not operating from a position of power-over. Our aim should not be to maximise our power over other people, but rather

To create the conditions whereby power can be shared. The purpose is to create the conditions in which each individual’s opportunity to exercise power is maximized in the context of the larger community [7] (p. 21).

If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:

  1. Power and strengths-based practice
  2. Principles of nonviolence
  3. Nonviolence as a Framework for Youth Work Practice
  4. What are authoritarian, permissive, uninvolved and authoritative parenting styles?
  5. What is the Strengths Perspective?
  6. Seven principles for a strengths-based approach to working with groups

If you find any problems with the blog, (e.g., broken links or typos) I’d love to hear about them. You can either add a comment below or contact me via the Contact page.


  1. VeneKlasen, L., & Miller, V. (2007). A new weave of power, people & politics: The action guide for advocacy and citizen participation. Warwickshire: Practical Action Publishing. Chapter 3 on Power and Empowerment is available from https://justassociates.org/en/resources/new-weave-power-people-politics-action-guide-advocacy-and-citizen-participation
  2. Mathie, A., Cameron, J., & Gibson, K. (2017). Asset-based and citizen-led development: Using a diffracted power lens to analyze the possibilities and challenges. Progress in Development Studies, 17(1), 1-13. doi: 10.1177/1464993416674302 Available from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1464993416674302
  3. Hunjan, R., & Keophilavon, S. (2010). Power and making change happen. Fife: Carnegie UK Trust. Available from https://www.carnegieuktrust.org.uk/publications/power-and-making-change-happen/
  4. Starhawk. (1990). Truth or dare: Encounters with power, authority, and mystery. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.
  5. Meyerding, J. (1982). Reclaiming nonviolence: Some thoughts for feminist womyn who used to be nonviolent, and vice versa. In P. McAllister (Ed.), Reweaving the web of life: Feminism and nonviolence. Philadelphia: New Society Publishers.
  6. Berger, B. K. (2005). Power over, power with, and power to relations: Critical reflections on public relations, the dominant coalition, and activism. Journal of Public Relations Research, 17(1), 5-28. doi: 10.1207/s1532754xjprr1701_3 Available from https://doi.org/10.1207/s1532754xjprr1701_3
  7. Bruyn, S., & Rayman, P. (Eds.). (1979). Nonviolent action and social change.New York: Irvington Publishers.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Families & parenting, Working with communities and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to 4 types of power: What are power over; power with; power to and power within?

  1. Pingback: Power Podcast Ep 31 - Anja Wendt

  2. Roger Neil Halford says:

    I’m interested in power over specially in relation to rented homes and eviction Any observations welcome


  3. Pingback: Transmuting domination into liberation – Entwining

  4. Christina Zoe Skikos says:

    I think it’s more like if the same person that who does this but I’ll just keep trying to get real powers


  5. Pingback: Gotta do that good old blogroll – royLETSblog

  6. Ntombekhaya Beauty Matume says:

    Dear admin
    I’ll like to know according to the explanations of the 4 types of power it means both genders need to implement both powers equally..


  7. Reuben says:

    Very helpful article, made my research much easier here at the UNIVERSITY OF ZAMBIA in Africa.


  8. Pingback: Beyond DD/lg: The Versatility of Daddy Play - Zipper Magazine

  9. Pingback: daddy-play-kink-beyond-ddlg - Zipper Magazine

  10. Pingback: 4 types of power: What are power over; power with; power to and power within? | Sustaining Community | Nizar Rammal

  11. Ravi says:

    I found the link to your article while searching on ways to understand power in clinical/therapy/healthcare setting. I found your writing very helpful. Thanks. “Power to” seems to need the person to recognise the potential for “power over” and to let it go. Do you think so?


  12. Clarifies my understanding of the expression of power.


  13. Pingback: Psychological Safety 53: Structure and Power | Psychological Safety

  14. Thanks for the information ;I really appreciate


  15. Pingback: What Happened When I Stopped Watching The News - That Seems Important

  16. Pingback: Your words have power: Use with care - Clapping Oak

  17. robert m chakulimba says:

    I like this one

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Lidya says:

    I really appreciate the types of power and thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Pingback: We’re Still Working in the Dark Ages | Think Different

  20. Pingback: 當女子好嗎? – Lena's World

  21. kondwani says:

    thanks for differentiating power with and power within

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Pingback: Women’s History and Power Dynamics – Julia Explores

  23. Pingback: connection is the key – Overthinking This

  24. andy says:

    war war never change


  25. Fatsan says:

    How can we cite this blog using APA style


  26. SANTINO G DENG says:

    i know power but i did not know the differences by than but i come to know at this afternoon when i was attending the workshop for GBV

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Virginia says:

    Thank you for the great article. Your personal experiences in wielding or sharing power were helpful. It was helpful to see the four types of power and to think about how I have utilized power in my own interactions as a teacher, mother, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Shelk kamara says:

    Very good

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Anonymous says:

    Thank you, this is succinct and informative. Much appreciated!


  30. Pingback: Want to create a more inclusive and sustainable world? Then collaborate. – Living Collaborations

  31. Vaughn says:

    Thanks Graeme
    I found your explanation of the four types useful. I believe that “power with” and “power to” are closely linked. Would you agree?


    • Thanks Vaughn. Yes I do agree. Mostly I just talk about power-over and power-with as I think it gets the concept across easily. In the context of Alternatives to Violence Project, power-within is probably also useful in terms of thinking about Transforming Power. Talk soon. Graeme

      Liked by 1 person

I'd love to hear what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.