Master suppression techniques can be used as an analytical tool to understand and analyze situations where unequal power positions affect social relations, resulting in discrimination and oppression. The related counter strategies function as a responsive tool for the suppression techniques while validation techniques are concrete preventive or behavioral tools to change social climates.
In short: Master suppression techniques are strategies of social manipulation used, unconsciously or consciously, to maintain power and suppress people in social relations. Power exists in every social relation, not only between e.g. parent and child, police and criminal, boss and employee or teacher and student, but also between friends, colleagues or family members. In every social relation, a negotiation of power will take place. The suppression techniques are connected to structural discrimination and inequality in society. They can be used by anyone, but are most - and most effectively - used by people with more power against people with less power.
The framework of master suppression techniques can be considered a norm critical approach, that has the purpose of raising awareness of how the norm and majority in societies affect our way of understanding different minority positions. It can be used as tool for awareness raising of privileged groups, (i.e. a white awareness perspective), or as an awareness and empowerment tool. Find more background material in Resources.
Invisibilizing; conveys that the target do not exist, and that his/her presence and actions are of no value or importance by ignoring people, interrupting, forgetting what they say, or neglecting themes or groups. Whether intentional or unintentional, the target may feel insignificant and insecure.
Counter strategy: Taking up space, insist on transparency and point out when people dominate.
Ridiculing; conveys a lack of equality, by belittling, taunting or making fun of people. A person ridiculing another reduces the target to a figure of fun, because of e.g. appearance, traits, origin or affiliations to religion or culture. Being the target of this ruler technique, one may find it difficult to feel taken seriously.
Counter strategy: Questioning and speaking up. Don’t go with the joke, point out if the tone is unacceptable.
Withholding information; not sharing information on purpose or by mistake, forgetting to invite all colleagues or relevant persons. When not having access to relevant information of e.g. written communication, news, invitations or minutes of a meeting, it may lead to incorrect or delayed response from the person who is excluded from the information.
Counter strategy: ‘Cards on the table’ - Demand transparency and maybe more time, ask questions and only agree on important decisions if you are well-informed.
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t; whatever choice a person makes, it is wrong. For instance if you are outspoken, you’re too dominating while if a good listener, you’re weak. If focusing on career, you’re neglecting your children while you lack ambition, if you prioritize your children (Stockholm University, 2004: 11).
Counter strategy: Altering/breaking free of the pattern by demanding the right to say no and decide on your own priorities and choices.
Heaping blame and putting to shame; making a person feel ashamed and guilty for an action, a trait, a certain development or a situation, even though this person is not to blame. For example, when women are made to feel guilty for being sexually harassed as they are told their clothes or behaviour are the cause of the harassment.
Counter strategy: Intellectualization - Only take responsibility for what you reasonably are responsible for, analyze the situation and do not take blame for something you can not change
This section is inspired by an article by professors at Stockholm University (2004) who worked out counter strategies and validation techniques with outset in feminist Berit Aas definitions of master suppression techniques. For more on each of the suppression techniques, counter strategies and validation techniques see Resources.
The master-suppression techniques have mostly been used in white awareness trainings or in awareness and empowerment trainings on discrimination issues - based on either ethnicity, culture, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Following are three examples for inspiration:
Handouts and background resources on working with master suppression techniques