The Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) recently hosted a conference, called “Power at Play in Social Change,” which was one of their annual Frontiers of Social Innovation events. In their marketing, SSIR said the virtual gathering would “use power as a lens to examine the strategies and practices commonly used in the field of social innovation today, as well as those emerging approaches that may be more widely used in the future.”
Coincidently, I recently finished my doctoral research (and a one-hour examination film) at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), on the role that our choice of words plays in either confirming existing power structures in society, or conversely, in disrupting them.
The outcome of an email exchange with SSIR is this film (available to attendees on the conference website). It’s a distillation of six years of doctoral research into 20 minutes (still a lifetime on the internet, I know).
Reducing it further to a couple of sentences, the words we use come from sources of power and influence, they support the existing underlying power structure when we use them and prevent changes to current structure (and current reality). In Politics and the English Language, Orwell said all this more briefly and eloquently way back in 1946 when he wrote about the degeneration of our society and its relationship to the language we use.
Recommended for You
Social change is about nothing but power, its absence and its excesses. Words are, for the most part, at least in civilized societies, the only way we have to defend or question power; through our relationships, and by simply committing to writing a description of the future in which we want to live.
We rarely stop to listen to the words we use (so automatically) to describe what we want, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor, because changing our language is a relatively easy way to change our direction, and the outcomes we describe.