Partnership Model of Society

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= Riane Eisler distinguishes partnership and dominator societies


Irena Ateljevic:

"For the skeptics who often too easily disregard such claims of societal transformation as being a rather elitist, upper/middle class luxury, in the next two sections, I would like particularly to cite two renowned social and political scientists who provide convincing evidence about new technological, economic and political arrangements that are creating and manifesting the transformation. Firstly, I will discuss the work of Riane Eisler (1987, 1996, 2002, 2007), a renowned macrohistorian6 and secondly, that of Jeremy Rifkin (1995, 2005, 2009), a well-known economist and advisor to government leaders and heads of state in Europe and the United States.

Based on her work as a cultural historian and evolutionary theorist over the last 20 years, Riane Eisler introduced the partnership and the domination system as two underlying possibilities for structuring beliefs, institutions and relations that transcend categories such as religious vs. secular, right vs. left, and technologically developed or underdeveloped. It is her particularly brilliant The Chalice and the Blade (1987), a historical analysis of over 30,000 years that provides us with a refreshing view of our past and ‘givens’ in all areas of our personal, communal, economic and political life. With reference to recent archaeological discoveries Eisler shows that ancient times (before 3500BC) were based on matrifocal values, which did not mean the opposition to patriarchy (i.e. the domination of women over men), but rather that societal organization focused on the values of giving life, fertility, the pleasure to exist, artistic creations and sexual pleasure. However, over time, the life-generating and nurturing powers of the universe, in our time still symbolised by the ancient feminine chalice or grail was replaced by the lethal power of the blade. In the new world, of which we are the last heirs, ‘power’ is no longer viewed as the ability to give life, but is construed as the power to bring death, destroy life, subdue others and be obeyed at all cost. For instance, Eisler provides a new interpretation of ‘original sin’ and the beginning of Genesis in the Bible as a text that represents the shift from the ‘old’ matrifocal symbols to the patriarchal myth in which the tree of life and wisdom becomes an evil and the sacred Eros between man and woman becomes the shameful act.

In deconstructing the long history of domination, Eisler provides a beacon for our tired world of ongoing mistrust, blood, misery and injustice. By transcending the trap of polarised thinking she offers a way forward by pointing to the partnership model in which social structure is more generally egalitarian, with difference (be it gender, race, religion, sexual preference or belief system) not automatically associated with superior or inferior social and/or economic status. Females and males are equally valued in the governing ideology and stereotypically feminine values such as nurturance, caring and non-violence can be given operational primacy without resulting in stereotyping of gender roles. Furthermore, in partnership models of society, the spiritual dimension of the life-giving and sustaining powers of both nature and women is recognised and highly valued, as are these powers in men. Spirituality is linked with empathy and equity, and the divine is imaged through myths and symbols of unconditional love. Human relations are held together by pleasure bonds rather than by fear of pain. The pleasures of caring behaviours are socially supported, and pleasure is associated with empathy for others. Caretaking, love-making and other activities that give pleasure are considered sacred. The highest power is the power to give, nurture, and illuminate life. Love is recognised as the highest expression of the evolution of life on our planet, as well as the universal unifying power (Eisler, 1996, p. 403-405). In providing us with an impressive range of world-wide evidence of personal, communal and economic initiatives, organisations and policies Eisler claims (in a similar vein as all the authors cited above) that we are finally witnessing the world-wide movement towards a partnership system (Eisler, 1996, 2002) of caring economics (Eisler, 2007). She asserts that the reason why we do not hear much about this movement in the media is because it is not centralised and coordinated under a single unifying name and: “without a name, it’s almost as if it didn’t exist, despite all the progress around us” (Eisler, 2002, p. xxi).

In her latest groundbreaking work on the Real Wealth of Nations (Eisler, 2007) she deconstructs Adam Smith’s theory of the invisible hand of the market as the best mechanism for producing and distributing the necessities of life to unpack its deep-seated culture of domination and exploitation that has devalued all activities which fall out outside of the market’s parameters of buying and selling. Instead she proposes that the slowly emerging caring economics takes into account the full spectrum of economic activities of the household, from the life enriching activities of caregivers and communities to the life-supporting processes of nature. In juxtaposition to the overwhelming evidence of structural inequalities and social injustices of the domination system, she provides evidence and many practical proposals for new economic inventions—new measures, policies, rules, and practices— to bring about a caring economics that fulfils human needs. In the many examples given, such as high-quality care for children, she also uses a purely financial cost-benefit analysis to demonstrate how caring is one of the best investments a nation can make. In her insightful economic analysis of policies and their (in)effectiveness around the world, she convincingly shows how the dominant culture of the double economic standard of valorising ‘productive’ over caring activities actually influences economic policies and practices. Eisler’s claims of emerging critical and caring businesses is further supported by the evidence that many mainstream businesses are re-questioning the main purpose of their bottom-line existence (i.e., going for profit only) which has led to the concept of spiritual economy and spiritual entrepreneurs conscious of her/his missions towards the common good of humanity (see Allee, 2003; Harman, 1998; Stewart, 2002; World Business Academy, 2009)."



The interview was conducted by Cecilia Gingerich for The Next System Project:

  • "CG: In your work you describe moving to a “partnership system.” Can you briefly describe what a partnership system is?

RE: The method I used in my research, the study of relational dynamics, differs from other approaches in a number of critical respects. It draws from a much larger database than most studies of society: it includes the whole of humanity (both its male and female halves), the whole of our history (including prehistory), and the whole of our lives (not only the public spheres of politics and economics, but also the private spheres of family and other intimate relations). It focuses on two systems dynamics; First: What is the relationship between key elements of a social system in maintaining or altering the system’s basic character? And second: What kinds of relationships – from intimate to international – does a social system support: top down ranking or relations based on mutuality?

This methodology revealed two underlying social patterns or configurations: the partnership model and the domination model. These new social categories transcend conventional ones such as right vs. left, religious vs. secular, ancient vs. modern, capitalist vs. socialist, and so on – which focus only on particular aspects of a system and pay scant, if any, attention to the cultural construction of the primary human relations between the female and male halves of humanity and between them and their daughters and sons. The partnership model and the domination model have two very different core configurations.

In contrast to domination systems, where there is top-down authoritarian rule in both the family and state or tribe, partnership systems have democracy and equality in both the family and state or tribe.

Unlike domination systems, where the male half of humanity is ranked over the female half, in partnership systems there is gender equity, and with this, a greater valuing of “feminine” traits and activities such as caring, caregiving, and nonviolence – in both women and men as well as in social and economic policy.

Whereas domination systems are ultimately held together by fear, force, and the threat of pain, partnership systems are based on mutuality; there are hierarchies, but rather than hierarchies of domination, these are hierarchies of actualization where power is empowering rather than disempowering and accountability, respect, and benefits flow both ways, rather than just from the bottom up. These configurations or models are the two ends of a partnership-domination continuum, as no society is a pure partnership or domination model. But the degree of orientation to either end of this continuum makes for very different social systems. For example, Nazi Germany (secular, Western) and Khomeini’s Iran and ISIL (religious, Eastern) orient closely to the domination model. The Minangkabau (religious, Eastern) and Nordic nations (secular, Western) orient to the partnership model."


* CG: Can you spend a bit more time describing how a partnership system would address current environmental issues, and particularly climate change?

RE: Both capitalist and socialist theory fail to recognize the value of caring for nature. The applications of socialism in both the former Soviet Union and China have been characterized by environmental disasters. In other words, it is not just unregulated capitalism that has been bad for our natural environment.

By contrast, caring for people and for nature is highly valued in partnership systems, and these values would inform policies. For example, high taxes would be levied on activities that create carbon emissions and there would be tax credits for companies that protect our natural life support system, such as manufacturing that recycles. Keeping a clean and healthy environment in both our homes and our planet would be highly valued. So would caring for people, which would be honored as both men’s and women’s work. The pejorative “nanny state” would be recognized as sexist and absurd.

* CG: How quickly could large domination-oriented societies like the United States and China transition to a partnership-oriented society? Could the change occur quickly enough to address some of the major “tipping points” for climate change, which climate scientists expect to occur in the next several decades?

RE: To achieve this, we have to recognize that the devaluation of caring for people and for nature is deeply rooted in the system of gendered valuations we have inherited. Unless we make this visible we will not see fundamental change. This is why an important part of the partnership political agenda is to bring partnership education into schools and universities. Many people recognize that old thinking cannot help us solve the problems it created. Young people are especially hungry for a new paradigm, a new way of looking at the world and living in it. If they are to be effective agents of change, starting now, they need to recognize beliefs, myths, and stories that promote domination or partnership, and learn the terrible consequences of domination and the benefits of partnership.


* CG: Are there any specific economic elements that are necessary for a partnership system in a post-industrial country? (markets, money, etc.)

RE: Systemic change requires both cultural and institutional or structural change, especially in economics. To achieve this, we need a new economic map. The old economic map fails to recognize the contributions of the three unpaid economic sectors: the household economy, the community volunteer economy, and the natural economy. My book The Real Wealth of Nations introduces a new economic map that – along with the market, government, and illegal economies – includes these essential economic sectors. This integrative map is the foundation for a partnership economic system that recognizes that the real wealth of a nation consists of the contributions of people and nature.

* CG: Can you explain to us the importance of economic indicators, and specifically the Social Wealth Economic Indicators (SWEIs) that you have developed at the Center for Partnership Studies?

RE: The main economic indicator policy makers rely on today is GDP or Gross Domestic Product. It is a strange indicator. It includes activities that harm and take life. Selling cigarettes and the medical and funeral costs of smoking boost GDP; so do oil spills, since cleanup, litigation, and their other costs augment GDP. But GDP fails to include activities essential to support life, such as the work in households of caring for people, starting in early childhood, even though without it there would be no workforce. GDP also gives no value to caring for our natural life-support systems, without which we could not survive.

The “informal” work carried out principally by women makes up a large proportion of the U.S. economy.

Social Wealth Economic Indicators (SWEIs) are unique tools for both progressive policy makers and advocates for a more equitable and environmentally sustainable society. They differ not only from GDP but also from most other GDP alternatives by demonstrating the enormous economic value of caring for people and nature. For example, a recent Australian study showed that if the work of caring for people in households were included in GDP, it would add 50% to it. SWEIs also pay much more attention to gender than other GDP alternatives. For instance, they reveal the link between the disproportionate poverty of women and the lack of policies that support the care work still primarily performed by them. Also unlike other GDP alternatives, SWEIs not only measure outputs (where a nation stands in its quality of life); it pays equal attention to inputs: what kinds of investments lead to better outcomes. SWEIs show that the United States lags way behind other developed nations in its public support for early childhood care and education. This is a major factor in our high poverty rates. It also means that we are not adequately investing in creating the “high quality human capital” economists tell us is essential for success in our post-industrial, knowledge/service age.

* CG: How might a partnership system in a post-industrial country deal with currently unpaid work, including unpaid care work?

RE: There are policies already in place in other developed nations – from publicly funded paid parental leave to stipends to help families with children and refundable tax credits for caregivers of the elderly. Our county has to catch up! So also do poorer nations, which is why we are seeking funding to adapt SWEIs into a global Index: one number per nation, like GDP.

The combination of overpopulation (due to denying women reproductive freedom) and resources depletion makes a shift from the present market consumer-driven economics essential. This shift is also essential because we are entering an era of structural unemployment and underemployment due to a massive technological shift. A guaranteed annual income or negative income tax where people are given monetary stipends is one response to the replacement of human workers by automation and robotics – trends that will exponentially increase with the advent of artificial intelligence. The response I propose in The Real Wealth of Nations is linking this monetary support to the work that only humans can perform: caring, caregiving, creating. People need meaningful work to be fulfilled, and just handing out money does not encourage positive contributions." (