Partnership v. Domination Patterns

Notes by Dr. Jan Garrett

Last revised date: September 1, 2010

A partial bibliography of writings by Riane Eisler is provided below.

For a more comprehensive introduction to the ideas of Riane Eisler,
see this presentation by Dr. Garrett given in March 2010.

The basic patterns of human relationships

Riane Eisler has described the basic patterns in terms of four dimensions (Eisler 2002). They are: Social Structure; Gender Relations; the Emotional Dimension (Fear vs. Hope and Trust); Value beliefs.

As Table 1 in your handout explains, in the domination model, social relations are typically characterized by hierarchies of domination, rankings that sharply distinguish between those who are controlled and those who control. In the partnership model, relationships tend to be egalitarian; hierarchies exist but they are what Eisler calls hierarchies of actualization. Another word for actualization is empowerment. More experienced, wiser, and skilled persons, through their educational interaction, with others can help less experienced and skilled persons acquire capacities they initially lack.

In the domination model, usually, the male half of humanity is ranked over the female half. Traits and activities such as control and conquest are highly valued and associated with masculinity. Gender inequality is taught at an early age and becomes the basic model of other inequalities, expressed in terms of, say, religious or racial rankings. In the partnership model, males and females are ranked equally. Traits such as empathy, nonviolent interaction, and caregiving are valued in women and men and expressed in social policy.

In the domination model the emotion of fear is prominent; violence is expected and to some extent encouraged, at least towards persons and groups considered to be inferior. In extreme forms, we see it in physical and emotional forms of spouse abuse and child abuse, and in abuse at work by superiors and even supposed peers. In the partnership model, trust is fostered, as is hope (not mentioned in Eisler's chart); there is little emphasis on fear and little acceptance of violence against individuals or groups.

In the domination model, relations of control/domination are presented as good. In the partnership model, relations of partnership, mutual respect, and processes of negotiation are presented as good.

Table 2, on interactive dynamics, sketches the ways in which these four aspects of each model reinforce each other. So there is a dynamic in which the four features of the partnership model tend to reinforce each other; and a contrary dynamic in which the four features of the domination model tend to reinforce each other.

Eisler not only distinguishes these two models of social relationships; she argues that they can be found at several levels

1. The relationship of a person to him or herself— do you beat yourself up when you fall short of some ideal or do you work with your existing habits and tendencies and try to improve them gradually?

2. The relationship of persons with family members and potential spouses—intimate relations. (She gives this a sort of primacy, for reasons that will become clear.)

3. The relationships within work settings and the local community.

4. The relationships between citizens and the national community/national government. International relationships.

5. Finally, the relationship between human beings and nonhuman nature (the planet as an ecological community including nonhuman species).

6. Even our relationship with the divine, with God or the Great Spirit, can be interpreted using this partnership vs. domination lens.

She discusses these in her important book, The Power of Partnership.

Partial Bibliography of Writings by or about Eisler.

See also Partnership Links.

Riane Eisler

Eisler, Riane, 1987. The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future. New York: Harper-SanFrancisco.

Eisler, Riane, 1996. Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Mystery, and the Politics of the Body. New York: HarperSanFrancisco.

Eisler, Riane, 2000. Tomorrow's Children: A Blueprint for Partnership Education in the 21st Century. Boulder CO: Westview Press.

Eisler, Riane, 2002. The Power of Partnership: Seven Relations that Will Change Your Life. New World Library: Novato CA.

Eisler, Riane, 2007. The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Eisler, Riane, n.d. ABC's of Partnership and Dominator Relations