Powerarchy: Understanding the Psychology of Oppression for Social Transformation

Powerarchy: Understanding the Psychology of Oppression for Social Transformation

by Melanie Joy PhD


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Harvard-educated psychologist and bestselling author Melanie Joy exposes the psychology that underlies all forms of oppression and abuse and the belief system that gives rise to this psychology—which she calls powerarchy

Melanie Joy had long been curious as to why people who were opposed to one or more forms of oppression—such as racism, sexism, speciesism, and so forth—often stayed mired in many others. She also wondered why people who were working toward social justice sometimes engaged in interpersonal dynamics that were unjust. Or why people who valued freedom and democracy might nevertheless vote and act against these values. Where was the disconnect?

In this thought-provoking analysis, Joy explains how we’ve all been deeply conditioned by the invisible system of powerarchy to believe in a hierarchy of moral worth—to view some individuals and groups as either more or less worthy of moral consideration—and to treat them accordingly. 

Powerarchy conditions us to engage in power dynamics that violate integrity and harm dignity, and it creates unjust power imbalances among social groups and between individuals. Joy describes how powerarchies—both social and interpersonal—perpetuate themselves through cognitive distortions, such as denial and justification; narratives that reinforce the belief in a hierarchy of moral worth; and privileges that are granted to some and not others. She also provides tools for transformation. 

By illuminating powerarchy and the psychology it creates, Joy helps us to work more fully toward transformation for ourselves, others, and our world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781523086665
Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers
Publication date: 09/03/2019
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 510,100
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Melanie Joy, PhD, is a psychologist, international speaker, NGO director, and organizational and relationship coach. Joy taught courses on psychology and social change at the University of Massachusetts Boston for over a decade, and she has been featured in media outlets around the world, including the BBC, NPR, and ABC Australia. She has received numerous awards, including the Ahimsa Award, previously given to the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela. She is the author of the award-winning Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 Oppression: A Relational Dysfunction 9

2 The Process of Power 24

3 Systems of Power 43

4 Distortions and Power 56

5 Narratives of Power 72

6 The Power of Privilege 89

7 Transforming Power 102

8 Beyond Oppression 118

Notes 139

Glossary 171

Acknowledgments 181

Index 183

About the Author 195

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