• Open Access

Power and the Twenty-first Century Activist: From the Neighbourhood to the Square


  • Jenny Pearce

  • This article is based on work undertaken for a series of ‘Power Talks’, part of a UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded study of Power in Community; see Pearce (2012) for details. I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers of this article. I would also like to thank the community activists who participated in the ‘Power Talks’ and Lisa Cumming, Mandy Wilson and Liz Firth who helped organize these.


This article is about the alternative forms of power emerging in contemporary activism. It conceptualizes this new form of power as ‘non-dominating’, and puts forward six propositions which characterize this form of power. It builds on work about power with eight diverse communities in the North of England, to argue that this form of power does exist in practice at the neighbourhood level, even though it is not articulated as such. While neighbourhood activists have difficulty in making this form of power effective, at the level of the ‘square’ and global activism, new understandings and practices of power are under conscious experimentation. This contribution therefore suggests that better connections need to be built between these levels of activism. At the same time, non-dominating power should be recognized as enhancing the debate about effective and transformative change and how it can avoid reproducing dominating power.