Review of Eros/Power: Love in the Spirit of Inquiry. Bradbury and Torbert, 2016

Patricia Gayà, Ph.D., of the Centre for Action Research and Critical Inquiry in Organizations reviews Eros/Power: Love in the Spirit of Inquiry. Transforming how Women and Men Relate. By Hilary Bradbury and Bill Torbert. Integral Publishers, 2016.

The phrase “no (wo)man is an island,” though much-lyricized, still sums up the central challenge and opportunity of modern-day civilizations: to understand that without relationship, connection, and communion the human species cannot survive, let alone thrive. What is at stake here is not relationship for relationship’s sake, for as we all know, relationships are as likely sources of pain and disappointment as they are of pleasure and support. The shadow side of power, in its all too many horrific guises, breaks through even the most supposedly sacrosanct of human relationships. Nowhere, perhaps, is this more insidious and seemingly intractable than in relationships between women and men in patriarchal—and yes, even in would-be post-patriarchal—societies. Eros/Power: Love in the Spirit of Inquiry, the latest in Hilary Bradbury and Bill Torbert’s important contributions to action inquiry in service of human and planetary flourishing, takes this most persistent and momentous of challenges as its starting ground.

Like the true action researchers they are, Hilary and Bill are not content to accept at face value the idealist refrain that all you need is love—tempting and catchy as it might be. Or at least not without first committing—as their deepest ongoing question, as the work of a lifetime (or two!)—to seeking out a practical understanding of what it is that love really is, and what it might mean to act lovingly in each instance, in each relationship and each encounter… even in each metaphorical grazing of elbows, and especially where subtle and not so subtle power imbalances and dynamics are at play.

With astonishing incisiveness and frankness, Hilary and Bill reflect on their own experiences of seeking and being in relationship through their own life trajectories, opening up for interrogation their own fumbling, stumbling, eventually inquiring, and ever evolving approaches to grappling with both Eros and Power in relationships with significant human others. In sharing such intimate, personal narratives, Hilary and Bill undertake a conscious de-robing of themselves that is as risky and uncomfortable as it is inquiring and compassionate. At times, this makes for some difficult reading. But we would be doing them, and ourselves, a huge disservice if we were to engage with this book at a purely voyeuristic level. The book is nothing if not personal and political. The overarching questions and provocations raised belong to us all, speaking to the heart(/mind/body)ache and to the relational discomforts and betrayals that are seemingly inescapable elements of the human condition. It brings home to us at the deepest of levels that our worthiest aspirations for social transformation and planetary flourishing begin with the most intimate of details: with our lived inter-subjective experiences and moment to moment relating with others.

Eros/Power: Love in the Spirit of Inquiry propounds a courageous and inspiring vision of inter-gendered friendships as sites for mutually supportive, ongoing exploratory quest(ioning), with the potential to heal, transcend, and transform tired patterns of relating between women and men. The book invites us, the readers, to reflect on those relationships which matter most to us: those in which mutuality and loving respect are, have been, or could be aspirations (more) explicitly shared and worked with ‘in the spirit of inquiry’—including those relationships, both intimate and professional, in which structural and gendered power dynamics are salient, and all too often bruising and constraining, if generally unacknowledged. But this book does more than inspire—it also equips us. Those intrepid readers who choose to go on to inquire into how their own friendships and relationships could be awakened, (re)visited, (re)invigorated, and enlivened through Eros/Power can garner support from the action inquiry approaches that the authors have spent decades crafting, refining, and seeking to put into practice, and which they model and share in this work.

This book is a powerful manifesto, offering us a way to a radically different future. A future of infinite possibilities, enabled by a soulful, full-bodied dance with the erotic life force that pulses, all too often unbidden and unheeded, within each of us, and in the places and moments where subjectivities meet. Possibilities to craft intimate relationships nourished and uplifted by Eros/Power. To co-create meaningful work and collective endeavors empowered by Eros/Power. To speak truth to power, from an understanding of power that embraces Eros. To breathe new life into our search for alternative forms of relational, social, and organizational practice more supportive of planetary flourishing. Hilary’s and Bill’s autobiographical writing is itself a gesture of love: a gift on their part to all out there who could/would transform in relationships, friendships, communities, and more-than-human contexts, and thus make both healing and flourishing at every systemic level possible… starting from the ground, heart, and loins up.

More about Eros/Power: Love in the Spirit of Inquiry here (along with a free download)

Patricia Gayà, Ph.D.,
Centre for Action Research and Critical Inquiry in Organizations.
University of Bristol, UK.

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