Using Rationality to Create Allies: Producing Power Relations

Brad C. Anderson

Through the application of different forms of rationality, we understand our world and justify our actions. Thus, convincing other people and groups to support your efforts requires you to apply the appropriate rationality to persuade them to do so. The following sections explore how to do this.

Values Come Before Rationality

Generally, rationality never operates alone. Values guide our use of rationality.[1] If people perceive your values are incompatible with theirs, no amount of rationality will convince them to join you.

Thus, your first step is to evaluate the overlap between your values and those of other stakeholders.

Defining Rationality as a Means to Produce Power Relations

Defining rationality is a tactic of power through which people and groups convince others what is rational. People want to be rational. They want others to perceive them as reasonable.

Thus, as Chapter VIII discussed, defining what other people consider rational can influence their behaviours. Producing power relations requires you to define rationality because you must convince others that supporting you is the sensible thing to do.

Defining rationality to produce power relations requires at least two steps: (1) demonstrating value alignment and (2) using the right form of rationality. In other words, you must convince others that you are doing the right thing (value alignment) in the right way (rationality alignment).

Showing Value Alignment

People are more likely to support you if you can demonstrate that doing so will help them advance the values they pursue. Chapter IV discussed various ways values interacted, including terminal versus instrumental values. It also considered how time affected values. Some actions have an effect in the short term, others in the long term. In some cases, one action that might achieve a value in the short term may undermine it in the long term.

When considering which people and groups to approach, assess the values guiding their actions. Evaluate the ways your values and theirs might interact. Perhaps your terminal value is an instrumental value for them, or maybe your actions solve a long term problem they have ignored due to short term time pressures.

When you approach them, define rationality so that they see how supporting you advance their values. Let’s look at the Seniors Program for an example of this.


Examples: Defining Rationality to Show Value Overlap

Recall from Appendix 1 that the fellowship wanted to develop a new program that would reduce frailty. They used the instrumental value of innovation to pursue the terminal value of public interest. The fellowship required support from vice presidents to gain access to personnel and funding needed to create the Seniors Program.

Because the vice presidents faced pressure to reduce the overcrowding of hospitals, they were uninterested. Vice presidents pursued instrumental values of robustness and sustainability to achieve the terminal value of public interest. They initially felt that providing resources to pursue innovation would compromise their capacity to achieve robustness and sustainability.

The fellowship recognized the source of vice presidents’ resistance. In response, the fellowship argued that the value of innovation embodied in the Seniors Program would reduce future demand for healthcare resources by creating a healthier population. Thus, the Seniors Program would contribute to future robustness and sustainability.

Once convinced of this connection, vice presidents became much more willing to provide the fellowship’s needed resources.


To define rationality effectively, however, you must use the right form of rationality, an idea that the following section explores.

Using the Appropriate Forms of Rationality

As alluded to in Chapter V, different groups may emphasize the importance of one type of rationality over others. Banks, for instance, may favor economic rationality when making decisions. An art gallery, though, may favor body rationality.

Before you approach people to support your actions, you must first learn their preferred form of rationality. The more you incorporate that form of rationality into your argument, the more compelling they will find it.

Though you may emphasize the rationality your audience finds most compelling, draw on other forms of rationality to create a rich web of understanding. Each type of rationality taps into different areas of the mind. The more deeply someone’s mind is engaged in your argument, the more compelling they will find it. The actions of the fellowship in the Seniors Program demonstrated this.


Examples: Using the appropriate forms of rationality

In Canada, technocratic rationality dominates the healthcare industry.[2] Medical schools train physicians to use evidence-based medicine, which requires doctors to prescribe medical interventions based on current scientific research.

The healthcare system also encourages administrators to apply evidence to practice. The belief in the industry is that the healthcare system should run following current scientific findings.

Thus, when the fellowship approached vice presidents, managers, physicians, and other healthcare workers to gain support for the Seniors Program, they emphasized how the program was grounded in science. They presented research findings to justify the program’s existence and designed their project as a scientific experiment. This approach appealed to the dominant rationality in the healthcare system.

The fellowship relied on more than technocratic rationality, however. They understood the vice presidents focused on the values of sustainability and robustness. Thus, the fellowship also made arguments incorporating economic rationality that demonstrated the Seniors Program would improve their organization’s capacity to manage patient demand sustainably.

Moreover, the Seniors Program targeted pre-frail seniors. Many of the executive managers the fellowship spoke with recognized they themselves might be pre-frail seniors. This personal connection engaged vice presidents’ body and emotional rationality.

To gain legitimacy in their organization, the fellowship had to emphasize technocratic rationality. Once they had that legitimacy, the rich melange of other rationalities made their arguments compelling, which led to the production of power relations they needed.

Collective Reasoning as a Means to produce Power Relations

As described above, collective reasoning is an act of deliberative democracy where many people join together to share ideas and debate important topics. Beyond the ability to develop superior solutions to problems,[3] collective reasoning also has the benefit of producing power relations.[4]

There are several reasons why collective reasoning builds relationships. When you ask a group for their ideas and then take their beliefs seriously, respect between you and that group grows. Mutual respect between groups is a foundation for creating strong relations. Additionally, when a group sees that an activity incorporates their ideas, they become motivated to perpetuate that activity.

In short, by incorporating the rationality of others into yours, not only will their respect for you grow, but they will become invested in the success of your plans. Again, we see several examples of this in the Seniors Program.


Examples: Collective Reasoning as a Means to Produce Power Relations

Designing a medical intervention that different healthcare regions can implement.

The Seniors Program was the product of a collaboration between two provincial health authorities and a non-profit foundation. By accommodating each partner’s contextual rationalities into the program’s technocratic rationality, influential people within each organization became invested in the program’s success.

This support from influential people was critical in the program’s long-term success. Recall from Appendix 1 that in the BC Health Authority, the original CEO resigned, and a new CEO took his place.

During this transition, the new CEO considered cancelling the program. The program’s endorsement from individuals within the non-profit foundation and Nova Scotia Health Authority helped convince the new CEO to continue supporting it.

Individualizing the intervention.

The fellowship empowered lifestyle coaches to personalize the physical activity regime that participating seniors undertook. This empowerment freed coaches to contribute their knowledge to the program actively.

Consequently, coaches felt ownership over the program’s success. They subsequently went above and beyond their contractual requirements to do work vital to the program’s success, such as running informational seminars for seniors and coaches.

Determining how to deliver the Seniors Program.

Recall how the fellowship met with seniors groups to learn how to convince elderly patients to participate in the program. Not only did this collaborative engagement yield insights into how to make the program successful, but the relationships gained through these discussions also created a pipeline of seniors willing to take part.


Producing power relations is essential because any action you might take in an organization may result in resistance. A strong network helps you overcome this resistance. The next section considers resistance in detail, outlining why groups might resist you and exploring ways you and your allies might manage it.

Key Takeaways

  • To use rationality to produce power relations
    • Values guide rationality. If people perceive your values undermine their values, no amount of rationality will convince them to join you
    • Power relations produced through defining rationality to show people how your values align with theirs
    • When convincing others to help you, use the form of rationality they perceive as legitimate and then layer in other types of rationality
    • Engaging in collective reasoning is a means to produce power relations

  1. Anderson, B. C. (2019). Values, Rationality, and Power: Developing Organizational Wisdom--A Case Study of a Canadian Healthcare Authority. Bingley, United Kingdom: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
  2. Anderson, B. C. (2019). Values, Rationality, and Power: Developing Organizational Wisdom--A Case Study of a Canadian Healthcare Authority. Bingley, United Kingdom: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
  3. Townley, B. (2008). Reason’s Neglect: Rationality and Organizing. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc.
  4. Anderson, B. C. (2019). Values, Rationality, and Power: Developing Organizational Wisdom--A Case Study of a Canadian Healthcare Authority. Bingley, United Kingdom: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.


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Using Rationality to Create Allies: Producing Power Relations Copyright © 2020 by Brad C. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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