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Three Dimensions of Power

Three Dimensions of Power



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Published by Psycholex
An essay exploring the reputed three dimensions of power. A good read.Feel free to contact me and join up in my "Machiavelian Power! with Psycholex" group! You'll find LOTS more power related stuff. Cheers!
An essay exploring the reputed three dimensions of power. A good read.Feel free to contact me and join up in my "Machiavelian Power! with Psycholex" group! You'll find LOTS more power related stuff. Cheers!

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Published by: Psycholex on Aug 18, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Luke's Three Dimensions of Power"Power serves to create power. Powerlessness serves to re-enforcepowerlessness"(Gaventa,1980:256). Such is the essence of the on goingrelationship between the Powerful and the Powerless of the Appalachian Valley where acquiescence ofthe repressed has become not only common practice but away of life and a means of survival. In his novel Power and Powerlessness, JohnGaventa examines the oppressive and desperate situation of the Appalachian coalminers under the autocratic power of absentee land-owners, local elites, andcorrupt union leaders. His analyses is based on Lukes three-dimensionalunderstanding of power from his book Power: A Radical View. Gaventa applies thethree notions of power to the politics of inequalities in the Appalachian Valleyand, while demonstrating the inadequacies of the first or 'pluralist' approachand the merits of the second and particularly the third dimensions, asserts thatthe interrelationship and reinforcing affect of all three dimensions isnecessary for an in depth understanding of the "total impact of power upon theactions [or inactions] and conceptions of the powerless"(Gaventa:256)This essay will examine Luke's three power dimensions and theirapplicability to Gaventa's account of the inequities found in the valleys of theCumberland Mountains. Reasons for the mountain people's submission and non-participation will be recognized and their nexus with the power relationshipestablished. In this way, Gaventa's dissatisfaction with the pluralist approachwill be justified and the emphatic ability of the other two dimensions towithhold issues and shape behaviour will be verified as principal agents ofPower and Powerlessness.The one dimensional view of power is often called the 'pluralist'approach and emphasizes the exercise of power through decision making andobservable behaviour. Robert Dahl, a major proponent of this view, definespower as occurring in a situation where "A has power over B to the extent he canget B to do something that B would not otherwise do"(Dahl as cited in Lukes,1974:11). A's power therefore is defined in terms of B and the extent to whichA prevails is determined by its higher ratio of 'successes' and 'defeats' over B.Observable behaviour then becomes a key factor in the pluralist approachto power. Dahl's Who Govern's? expresses the pluralist belief that thepolitical arena is an open system where everyone may participate and expressgrievances which in turn lead to decision making. Those who proposealternatives and initiate issues which contribute to the decision making process
are demonstrating observable influence and control over those who failed alltogether to express any interest in the political process.The Pluralist approach assumes that in an open system, all people, not just the elite, would participate in decision making if they felt stronglyenough about an issue and wanted their values to be expressed and represented.Non-participation therefore is thought to express a lack of grievances and aconsensus with the way the leaders are already handling the system. Politicalinaction is not a problem within the one-dimensional system, it merely reflectsapathy of ordinary citizens with little interest or knowledge for political matters, and their acceptance of the existing system which they see as rewardingmutual benefits to society.While politics is primarily an elite concern to the pluralist, ordinarypeople can have a say if they become organized, and everyone has indirectinfluence through the right to the franchise in the electoral process.Pluralism recognizes a heterogeneous society composed of people belonging tovarious groups with differing and competing interests. Conflict is thereforealso recognized as not only an expected result but as a necessary instrumentwhich enables the determination of a ruling class in terms of who the winner is.Dahl,(as cited in Lukes,1974:18) states:Who prevails in decision-making seems the bestway to determine which individual and groups havemore power in social life because direct conflictbetween actors presents a situation most approximatingan experimental test of their capacities to affectoutcome.Both Lukes and Gaventa put forward the notion that restricting youranalyses of a power situation to the one dimensional model can skew yourconclusions. If you limit yourself to this approach your study will be impairedby a pluralistic biased view of power. Where the first dimension sees power inits manifest functions of decision making over key issues raising observableconflict due to policies raised through political participation, it ignores theunobservable mechanisms of power that are sometimes just as or even moreimportant.Many times power is exercised to prevent an issue from being raised andto discourage participation in the political arena. Potential issues andgrievances are therefore not voiced and to assume this means that they do notexist would be an outright deviation from fact. By restricting analyses to whatis expressed and to observable behaviour and overt conflict only, you miss any
preference not expressed because of fear of sanctions, manipulation, coercionand force.This critique of the behaviourial focus and the recognition ofunobservable factors of power is discussed in the two-dimensional view of powerdeveloped by Bachrach and Baratz by which "power is exercised not just uponparticipants within the decision making process but also towards the exclusionof certain participants and issues altogether"(Schattsneider, as cited inLukes,1974:16). This theory proposes that political organizations develop a"mobilization of bias... in favour of the exploitation of certain kinds ofconflict and the suppression of others... some issues are organized in whileothers are organized out"(Ibid.,16).The first dimension claims there is an open system and althoughadmitting that political resources are not distributed equally, they are alsonot centralized in one groups hands. Everyone has the opportunity to use otherresources and be heard. The second approach however, sees a monopolistic systemof inequalities created and maintained by the dominant power. The elite havethe means and the political resources to prevent political action that would notbenefit themselves and to push forward those that would. The Elite thereforedetermine the agenda of both decision making and non-decision making and in sodoing establish their dominance and the subordinance and compliance of those onthe bottom of the power hierarchy.Although the two dimensional approach to power delves deeper than thefirst into the nature of power and powerlessness by involving analyses ofpotential issues, grievances, nondecision-making and non-participation, BothLukes and Gaventa find that it is on the same level as the first dimension inthat it also emphasizes observable conflict only. Of course it is true thatthe first does stress only overt while the second stresses both overt and/orcovert conflict. Nonetheless, an affinity between the two results in theirbelief that where there is conflict, there is an element of power in decisionmaking and, for the second dimension, in nondecision-making. Barach and Baratz(as cited in Lukes,1974:19) states that if "there is no conflict, overt orcovert, the presumption must be that there is consensus on the prevailingallocation of values, in which case nondecision-making is impossible." Here,there is obviously no consideration of latent conflict or attention as to howinterests not consciously articulated may fit into the power relationship.Lukes identifies manipulation and authority as two forms of power whichdo not necessarily involve evident conflict. People abide by the power ofauthority because they either respect or accept its legitimacy. Compliance tothe power of manipulation often goes unrecognized by the conformer because focusis placed on irrelevant matters and the key aim is downplayed. In neither is

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