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View on Power (Stephen Lukes)

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According to Lukes in his book, Power: a radical view, the 1974 study was in reply of the ongoing argument at that time concerning whether the American politics were controlled by the ruling elite or pluralist democracy. Lukes expanded the debate and tried to make it more practical by asking theoretical questions regarding power, as well as taking into account how the questions would be responded to empirically. According to Luke, both the pluralist and elitist views existing at that time took a narrow approach to defining power, particularly on the issue of finding empirical answers. His feeling was that there was not enough concentration given to the hidden power aspects that are least suitable for measurement. In Lukes’s power analysis, he stated that it is vital to take into consideration the aspects that have the lesser ability for observation. This paper presents a discussion on Lukes’s dimensional analysis of power, as well as examples of an organization that match his third dimension of power.

1-Dimensional View

In his first dimension of power, Lukes utilizes Dahl’s fundamental description of power which states that a person (A) has power when he can make another person (B) act against their will (Dahl, 1961). For instance, if a parent can make his child go to bed when he wants to watch a movie or play video games, then he has the power over the child. In this model, focus is on decision making, behavior, major issues, as well as observable conflict. This means that the concentration is only on the evident use of power which is active, intentional and is shown via observable conflict where the existing interests of the political elite are seen through their policy preferences. It is worth noting that despite this dimension giving a description of the way political power is carried out; it however, fails to show the way political agenda is controlled.

2-Dimensional View

According to research by Bachrach and Baratz (1963), the approach taken by Dahl on power only consists of concrete decisions and actions. They continue to say that in realism, there is a possibility that power be may be utilized or not and it may be evident or not. In addition, Bachrach and Baratz state that power is neither always active nor purely intentional. According to these two researchers, power resides both in a person’s capability to force another to do things against his will, as well as his capacity to make choosing impossible through dictating the agenda of discussion. For instance, the ruling party that has the power may limit political arguments to comparatively insignificant topics. According to Lukes, the approach taken by Bachrach and Baratz is the two-dimensional view since it concentrates on domination of political issues, as well as decision making. Lukes stated that if a person is capable of setting the agenda, then he has real power since he can dictate the situation by deciding on what is to be argued.

3-Dimensional View

Whereas Lukes’s second dimension focuses on the domination of political issues, agenda, observable conflict, and decision making, his third dimension talks about the ruling party effectively shaping the beliefs and perceptions of the ruled in order to stop grievances from being created in the first place. The result is that the party B is forced to acknowledge the status quo to be in his interest due to lack of proof to suggest otherwise. Therefore, this dimension of power can be summed up as the mobilization of political power in order to make sure that conflicts are prevented from occurring and grievances fail to go into the political debate. By concentrating on the unconscious influence of the beliefs and thoughts of people, the political elite evade objections, thus remain dominant.

An example of Lukes’s three-dimensional approach on power is President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who has been blamed for the economic downfall of his country. Having been in power since 1987, he has been able to influence the thoughts and perception of his subjects in a way that they support him in his decisions, some of which are controversial. For instance, Mugabe had been accused of showing racism against the whites residing in Zimbabwe. In response, he convinced his people that those whites were taking up their land and job opportunities. This way, he has been able to have a majority of the ruled on his side, thus limiting the need for opposition.

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