Power only has two dimensions?

Last updated: March 7, 2019

There a debate over how many dimensions the concept of power has. The idea of power as only two-dimensional would include the Pluralists concept of power and the neo-elitists Bachrach and Baratz’s second face of power. But would exclude Lukes conception of the third face and any possible fourth face. The faces of power debate is a question of how widely to define power. On the one hand the Pluralist first face of power is a very narrow definition that can be easily applied to political analysis, studied and measured. Adding further faces to this broadens the definition of power by including new aspects however this means that the second face is difficult to measure and the third face almost incalculable, although it does provide a complex definition that is inclusive. This means that although adding faces seems to be helpful, even if these faces are power then they make understanding where power is being exercised much harder.

Power only has two dimensions?
Yes because...

First dimenson of power

The first face of power is the pluralist view of power; it is simply, by Dahl’s definition, “A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do.” This can be through methods such as physical constraint, activation of commitments, persuasion, inducement and coercion. [[Brian Barry, Power An Economic Analysis, in Brian Barry, Democracy, Power and Justice, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1989, pp.222-269, p.223.]] For this exercise of power there has to be a conflict of interests or preferences between A and B.[[Colin Hay, Political Analysis: A Critical Introduction, Palgrave, Basingstoke, 2002 p.172.]] This power is a possession not an event; the event is the exercise of that power. The distribution of power can thus be worked out through looking at who prevails in decision-making.[[Nelson W. Polsby, Community Power & Political Theory, 2nd edition, Yale University Press, London and New Haven, 1980, p.4.]] Looking at the probability that A will be able to get B to do something he would not otherwise do, therefore seeing how many times A succeeds in his/her exercise of power.[[Barry, Economic, pp.227-228.]] So as an example of what the first face of power could be in China Mr Yan Yuanzhang is called to the Beijing Internet Propaganda Management Office and is told that his websites China Workers Net and Communist Net are providing material that that could be used to attack China by foreign media and therefore must close them down within twenty-four hours.[[‘Special report China and the internet: The Party, the people and the power of cyber-talk’, The economist, 29/4/06, p.27.]] Then the communist party had forced Mr Yan to do something he would not otherwise do exercising power over him.
No because...

Power only has two dimensions?
Yes because...

Second dimension of power

Bachrach and Baratz include the “confining the scope of decision-making to relatively ‘safe’ issues” [[Peter Bachrach and Morton S. Baratz, ‘Two Faces of power’, The American Political Science Review, Vol.56, No.4, (Dec., 1962), pp.947-952, p.948.]] as being an exercise of power. Basically they include agenda setting as a form of power as well as directly influencing a decision. “To the extent that a person or group – consciously or unconsciously – creates or reinforces barriers to the public airing of policy conflicts, that person or group has power.”[[ibid, p.949.]] The example of Mr Yan could also illustrate this as the communist party is consciously trying to keep critiques of China’s “Dickensian capitalism” from being aired or discussed.[[economist, cyber-talk, p.27.]] Or more generally China’s attempt to control the Internet is to prevent democracy getting onto the agenda. For Dahl to define a key political issue it would be “A necessary although possibly not sufficient condition that the issue should involve actual disagreement in preferences among two or more groups.”[[Dahl, Robert A., ‘A Critique of the Ruling Elite Model’, The American Political Science Review, Vol.52, No.2, (Jun., 1958), pp.463-469., p.467.]] However for Bachrach and Baratz this is an insufficient definition because groups can disagree on unimportant as well as important issues.[[Bachrach & Baratz, Two, p.950]] In their view an important issue would be any challenge to the predominant values,[[ibid, p.950.]] these would be precisely the issues that the dominant actor would be keeping off the agenda.
No because...
Lukes criticises Bachrach and Baratz’s 2nd face of power for not going far enough. Lukes first argues that its critique of behavioralism is too qualified as it is still committed to behaviouralism.[[Lukes, Steven, Power A Radical View, 2nd edition, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2005, p.25]] However Lukes argues that a system of bias, the agenda, is not sustained by a series of individual acts but by the social and cultural environment, the action of a collective group will not be subject to a particular individuals decisions, and there will be systemic effects where there is a mobilisation of bias as a result of the form of the organisation. Secondly power is still about observable conflict.[[ibid, p.26.]] Lukes believes this is wrong because power through manipulation and authority may not involve observable conflict. Additionally, because power need not be only exercised in situations of conflict, this would be the case if A exercises power over B by shaping B’s wants.[[ibid, p.27.]] Related to Lukes second point is his third that with non-decision making power only exists if an actor’s grievances are being blocked from entry into the decision-making process this would miss a case where someone is prevented from believing they have a grievance in the first place.[[ibid, p.28.]]

Power only has two dimensions?
Yes because...

Redefining the three dimensions of power

Hay suggests that Lukes problems with the third face of power stem from “his attempt to revise and modify rather than reject and replace the behavioural and actor centred definition of power” [[Colin Hay, Political Analysis: A Critical Introduction, Palgrave, Basingstoke, 2002 p.184.]] therefore Hay wishes to redefine the faces of power controversy. Hay wishes to have a positive power, power of rather than power over.[[ibid, p.185.]] Hay’ redefinition of power reduces power to having two “different conceptions of power” effectively two faces by merging the second face into both the first and third faces. Direct power, power as conduct-shaping, is when “A gets B to do something that s/he would not otherwise do” this power is “immediate, visible and behavioural”.[[ibid, p.186.]] This would include the first face of power but would also include confining issues to safe issues therefore the second face’s agenda setting. So this would be, as with the first face, the suppression of students in Tiananmen Square, but also Deng Xiaoping’s hope that concentrating on an economic miracle would keep democratic rights off the agenda preserving communist rule.[[Lucian W. Pye, ‘Chinese democracy and constitutional development’, in Fumio itoh ed., China in the twenty-first century: Politics, Economy and Society, United Nations University Press, Tokyo, 1997, pp.205-218, p.207.]] Indirect power, power as context-shaping, is “about the capacity of actors to redefine the parameters of what is socially, politically and economically possible for others.” This would therefore include Lukes third face of power but also Bachrach and Baratz’ mobilisation of bias. So this would mean the mobilisation of propaganda or use of the state trade union. Hay defines this context-shaping power as “the ability of actors (whether individual or collective) to ‘have an effect’ upon the context which defines the range of possibilities of others”. This redefinition also allows for power over, as an actor A can have the ability to transform the context in which B finds itself, without B being able to transform A’s context.[[Hay, Analysis, p.185.]] This eliminates the problem of value-judgements as an exercise of power does not have to violate ‘real’ interests.
No because...
Digiser’s fourth face(see the no points below) probably links in better with Hay’s two conceptions of power, rather than being added onto Lukes 3rd face. The slow shaping of a norm is a long term version of context-shaping, it changes the environment, the rules and norms around us, this is the context of the decision. This would move the number of faces of power back up to three.

Power only has two dimensions?
No because...

Third dimension of power

Lukes solution to this is to introduce a third face to power. “What one may have is a latent conflict, which consists in a contradiction between the interests of those exercising power and the real interests of those they exclude.”[[Lukes, Steven, Power A Radical View, 2nd edition, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2005, p.28.]] This means that there may not be an actual conflict if power is used to blind someone from being able to see his or her real interests. A person having power over them being used may not realise that a conflict of interests exists because they have been prevented socially or culturally from seeing what their real interests are. “Indeed, is it not the supreme exercise of power to get another or others to have the desires you want them to have – that is to secure their compliance by controlling their thoughts and desires?”[[ibid, p.27.]] This kind of power is often exercised through ideology. This, in China for example, was done through the creation of a permanent propaganda network from 1951 by installing ‘propagandists’ in every party branch who were supposed to be constantly disseminating propaganda, the number of ‘propagandists’ in some areas could be as much as 1% of the population. Their purpose was to promulgate anti-American propaganda during the Korean War, encourage greater production and prevent counterrevolutionary propaganda.[[Frederick C.T. Yu, ‘The Control of the Mind’ in William T. Liu ed. Chinese Society under Communism: A Reader, John Wiley and Sons, London, 1967, pp.121-130, pp.122-3, 127.]]
Yes because...
Lukes argument that has been attacked is his definition of power in terms of interests. Kernohan argues that this is circular. “you cannot define the concept of powering terms of its effects on people’s real interests, and then characterise real interests in terms of their autonomy from the effects of power.”[[Andrew Kernohan, ‘Social Power and Human Agency’, The Journal of Philosophy, Vol.86, No.12, (Dec., 1989), pp.712-726, p.713.]] The problem is that we cannot identify absence of power without first identifying that power but Lukes definition gives no way of identifying power.[[ibid, p.715.]] Lukes definition is “A exercises power over B when A affects B in a manner contrary to B’s interests.”[[Lukes, Radical, p.37.]] So to find A’s power over B’s choice of interests we must identify B’s choice of interests without A’s Power over him, which would in turn have to be defined in terms of an absence of power which cant be known unless we know what A’s power is.[[Kernohan, Social, pp.715-716.]]
Hay also criticises Lukes on the issue of interests. For Lukes A’s preference shaping means that B acts in a way contrary to B’s ‘real’ interests, however who is to know B’s ‘real’ interests if B himself does not? Lukes implies that the academic, having a privileged vantage point, does; “Not only is this wretched individual incapable of perceiving his/her true interests, pacified as s/he is by the hallucinogenic effects of the bourgeois (or other) indoctrination. But, to confound matters, rising above the ideological mists which tame the masses is the enlightened academic who from a high perch in the ivory tower may look down to discern the genuine interests of those not similarly privileged.”[[Hay, Analysis, p.179.]] The problem with finding these objective interests is that they depend on the perception of these interests, the process to which one goes through to arrive at these objective interests is not objective. This is particularly the case given perfect knowledge can never be had so the objective interests will be recast with hindsight. The relationship between power and interests in the third face of power forces an ethical judgement about ‘real’ interests thus “Lukes generates a situation in which no two theorists are ever likely to agree on what constitutes a power relationship.”[[ibid, p.181-184.]] This renders the concept of power relative.

Power only has two dimensions?
No because...

No need for grievance for power to be exercised

With the Third face of power there is not necessarily a grievance as the person whose ‘real’ interests are being ignored has accepted their role in the existing order.[[Lukes, Radical, p.28.]] This on the surface benefits both the exerciser of power and the person over whom power is being exercised however this consensus is the product of a manipulation. The person over whom power is being exercised would be better off realising his real interests and acting to fulfil them. In China Trade Unions are probably good examples. Despite being one of the major supports for the communist take over they were merged together, while they were still supposed to do welfare work their other goals were in line with the states priorities, to help boost production and to do political and ideological work.[[Peking Review, ‘Trade Unions in communist China’ in William T. Liu ed. Chinese Society under Communism: A Reader, John Wiley and Sons, London, 1967, pp.329-334, pp.330-332.]] It would probably be much more in the workers ‘real’ interests to not have a state run trade union that would contest attempts to force longer work hours, higher productivity etc.
Yes because...
Lukes does himself point out some difficulties with the third face of power. “How is one to identify the process or mechanism of an alleged exercise of power, on the three-dimensional view?” i.e. how can this power be studied. Lukes argues that in the case of suppression of a potential issue by inaction may well have specific consequences, such as a political issue not appearing, a causal relationship can be established. The third face of power can be exercised unconsciously; either the actor exercising power is unaware of its ‘real’ motive. Or the actor may be unaware of how its action is interpreted by others. Or else the actor could be unaware of the consequences of its action.[[Lukes, Radical, pp.52-53]] In this third case Lukes believes that power is only exercised if the actor could have found out the consequences of its action, however if the knowledge is not available “the talk of an exercise of power appears to loose all its point.” In the case of the exercise of power by a collective or group, it has to be “in the exerciser’s or exercisers’ power to act differently” otherwise it is structurally determined.[[ibid, pp.54, 57.]] Responsibility has to be able to be fixed on an actor for power to be exercised.

Power only has two dimensions?
No because...

Fourth dimension of power?

Digeser, using Foucault’s ideas claims there is a fourth face of power. The fourth face of power does not presuppose the actors (A and B) they are social constructions, referring to the “enabling or disabling of agency i.e., the ability to have desires, form goals, and act freely.”[[Peter Digeser, ‘The Fourth Face of Power’, The Journal of Politics, Vol.54, No.4 (Nov., 1992), pp.977-1007, p.980.]] The fourth face is omnipresent it is the values and norms that we create, political authority rests on the shared values we create, values such as “the nature of obligation, the capacity of individuals to act freely…all of our political, economic, legal, and religious practices are planted in a social context governed by various rules and discourses forged by relations of power.”[[ibid pp.981-82.]] This power is therefore similar to the third face of power in that it is based on shaping beliefs, however in this case over a much longer period; it is the creation of norms. Therefore there is not a conflict with a actors ‘real’ interests. Digeser gives the example of the practice of promise keeping, this practice if formed by for example an actor taking a certain pride in keeping his word, this practice becomes widely adopted as the result of many interactions until it becomes a norm, the power of a norm or expectation of promise keeping has been created.[[ibid, p.984.]] An example from China would be that in order for China to become a democracy it needs a strong civil society to constrain the state. China thus needs to build up the norms and practices of civil society this would include norms such as freedom of speech. While conversely some moral standards have been declining along with the legitimacy of the Chinese state such as a decline in honesty,[[Pye, democracy, pp.212-214.]] this would mean a lessening of the power of the norm of honesty or as with Digeser’s example promise-keeping, the Chinese will feel less bound to keep promises.
Yes because...
The fourth face however does not fit in well with the other three. It does not involve interests, it is in an individuals ‘real’ interest to keep to a norm of promise keeping as it benefits all. Similarly there is no particular exerciser of power apart from the system and our conscience. Although there is a power in norms they probably should not be regarded as a fourth face but be separate.


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