I'm reading Epistemic Injustice by Miranda Fricker (looking at pages 10 and 11 here) and she starts out by defining power. One of the things she says is

[...] power can operate purely structurally.

She then gives an example:

Consider for instance, the case where a given social group is informally disenfrancised in the sense that, for whatever complex social reasons, they tend not to vote. No social agent or agency in particular is excluding them from the democratic process, yet they are excluded, and their exclusion marks an operation of social power.

I'm confused by this. Usually, we think of power as being a capacity which is exercised by an intention. So for instance, I have the power to stand up from my chair. By that, I mean that if I direct my intention towards standing up, I will stand up.

But in her example above, there is no intention. The group just ends up disenfranchised "for whatever complex reasons." I'm not even sure where the power she refers to resides. She says

It seems in such a case that the power influencing their behavior is so thoroughly dispersed through the social system that we should think of it as lacking a subject.

Does that mean "the social system" intends to disenfranchise this group? If so, what does that mean? Social systems are not usually held to have mental states. And if the power is dispersed in the social system, that implies its constituents are held by the constituents of the social system. What are those constituents of structural power? Is it agential power held by social agents?

Any clarification would be helpful.

  • 3
    Seeking to reduce power to intention here may be missing the point — that is, the point seems to be power structures dominate the relation between the individual and the collective, and these structures have a profound impact on human lives, even if no individual’s intent is consistent with that outcome
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 12:36
  • I understand power doesn't require a particular individual holding an intention. But isn't the concept of power a capacity and doesn't its exercise contain an aboutness?
    – azani
    Commented Aug 2, 2019 at 13:23


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