Power is a controversial and polysemous word that affects and governs our everyday lives within the society in several ways, some of which we are not even aware of.
Its meaning has been discussed and developed from different spheres: philosophy, politics and sociology. It therefore has multiple meanings and faces according to different walks of life. Generally though, it is often referred as the ability to influence and control people or things.
Dahl, gives a one-dimensional definition of power. According to him, “A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do” (Dahl, 1957, in Bell, Edwards and Harrison Wagner 1966 p.80).
This is a concrete vision but does not give a broader explanation of the whole picture of this manifestation. Indeed, the pluralist vision, judged as “sterile” (Taylor 1984:171) and restrictive, is the study of the observable behaviour, the decision-making. Dahl thinks that in order to exercise power there has to be a ‘conflict of interest’.
Alternatively, according to critics, such as Bachrach and Baratz, writers of ‘Two faces of Power’, power is not only this, it is exercised “by confining the scope of decision-making to relatively ‘safe’ issues” (p. 6). This could happen by limiting “decision-making to relatively non-controversial matters, by influencing community values and political procedures and rituals.” (p. 949)
Thus, they embrace agenda setting and controlling, as a form of power, that is, manipulation that does not necessarily involve evident conflict.
However, in ‘Power: a radical view’, Lukes highlights and criticises the second face, the nondecision-making. He notes that there is need to focus on aspects that are least accessible to observation and adds a third dimension: thought control. The latter describes how power can manipulate individuals to do something they might not actually want to do by changing what they want and desire.
“Is it not the supreme and the most insidious exercise of power to prevent people, to whatever degree, from having grievances by shaping their perceptions, cognitions and preferences in such a way that they accept their role in the existing order of things, either because they can see or imagine no alternative to it, or because they see it as natural and unchangeable, or because they value it as divinely ordained and beneficial?” (Lukes, 1974, p.28).
In other words, an individual can induce another to believe and choose to act in a certain way and such situation reinforces the bias of the system.
Therefore, the third dimension is ideological in nature and it can create ‘false consciousness’ (Marx) or alienation.
BACHRACH, P. and BARATZ, M.S. (1962) cited in ‘Power: a radical view’. LUKES S. (2005). Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. (p.22)
BACHRACH, P. and BARATZ, M.S. (1962) ‘The two Faces of Power’, American Political Science Review, vol. 56 issue 4, p. 949
DAHL R.A. (1957), cited in ‘Power: a radical view’. LUKES S. (2005). Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. (p. 16)
LUKES S. (2005) ‘Power: a radical view’. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. (p.28)
TAYLOR, C. (1984:171), cited in ‘Power: a radical view’. LUKES S. (2005). Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. (p.60)