Political Power USA

"Political analysis can be defined quite simply as the analysis of the nature, exercise and distribution of power. "1 This argument is criticised of being too broad, excluding almost nothing, nevertheless it is reasonable to argue that power is the central theme which lies throughout the study of politics. Therefore defining the concept of power is one of the crucial things in the study of politics consequently it is often contested and can never be agreed among the scholars. This essay will focus on so-called the 'faces of power' controversy in the post war period.

First of all, the idea which consists of the first and basic part in interpreting power will be introduced. Then what its critiques argue and their flaws will also be discussed to draw the conclusion how far the argument 'A gets B to do something that he or she would not otherwise do' reflects the essence of power. The 'faces of power' debate was raised from different theoretical traditions and approaches to political analysis. Basically the argument is about whether the concept of power is simple and quantifiable or it is rather complicated and intuitive concept which cannot be measured.

Lukes2 acknowledges that this concept can never be settled. Alternatively he accepts the broad definition of power as A's ability to get B to do what he or she would not otherwise have done but tries to highlight 3 different ways in which A can influence B's behaviour: decision-making, agenda-setting and thought control. The one face of power – power as decision-making was suggested by Dahl in the early post war years. The thesis put forward above was originally proposed by him and this one-dimensional view of power was significant and influential in 1950s.

"Power is somehow about getting things done, and is therefore most clearly reflected in decision and how they are made. "3 For Dahl, in order to find out power relationship, three steps are needed. First, a number of decision areas are selected and then the actors involved in that decision and their interests are figured out. Finally by comparing the decisions made and the actors' preferences, the power relationship can be revealed. In this sense power is understood as a concept which can be simplified and quantified.

A clear example was shown in? Political Analysis? : Anna buys Ben's car for 500 which is actually worth i?? 800 and both of them are aware of the real value. In this case, Anna's power has been exercised over Ben in terms of decision-making since this decision would not have been the case if he had an influence in the process. One of the critical assumptions here is that the actors involved are fully aware of the information. Anna could have made this deal without exerting power if Ben did not know the real value.

This argument of power as a decision-making does often make sense in tripartite political system where a number of different parties exercise their influence on controversial issues. In this case it is obvious to see the frequency of a particular party's preference coincides with the final decision. Thus, how far they have influence on decision-making can be understood in terms of their political power. However Dahl's argument faces critical attack in a sense that it too focuses on its narrow concept of power in decision-making.

First of all, since only the key decisions are studied, it raises the problem of how far we are capable of distinguishing key issues and routine issues which are often ignored. Moreover, it does not take the potential power into account. In this manner, the power which is not exerted cannot be regarded as power. For instance, some business groups would not be concerned with the welfare issues until they realise the increased burden for welfare tax. Then it might be possible for them to begin exercising their power which has not been exercised without any explicit need for it.

Also as assumed from its name, it only uncovers 'one face of power' ignoring other circumstances "in which decisions are prevented from happening, the area of non-decision-making. "4 This gave a rise to the second face of power argument by Bachrach and Baratz. According to their view, power should be understood as agenda-setting which is the two dimensional approach. "Power might be manifested not only in doing things but also in ensuring that things do not get done. "5 What they basically insist is that power is exercised in choosing what should be involved in formal discussion and what should not be.

In other words, who holds the power needs to be understood in agenda-setting process before the actual decision-making process. In this way, they have broadened the boundary in the concept of power. This kind of approach is well shown in the liberal democratic system where parties are seen as the medium of representing a particular preference on issues. However they can actually block a certain kind of issue to be discussed by disregarding it or make an agreement not to raise the issue.

It is difficult to quantify the concept of power from this approach nonetheless not impossible. Thus they agree with the one-dimensional approach in a sense that there should be observable and demonstrable evidence of power relationship between the one who exercise power and the other who are subject to the power. However "the attempt to limit the concept of non-decision-making to observable behaviour is entirely arbitrary"6 since it does not take in the case in which the subordinated do not recognise themselves as being subordinated.

Consequently this problem gave a rise to the third-dimensional view introduced by Lukes. According to his argument, the basic assumption of the above two views is not quite right. What people believe as their interests does not necessarily mean their 'real' interests. "The ability of A to exercise power over B, not by getting B to do what he would not otherwise do, but, by 'influencing, shaping or determining his very wants'"7 What is meant here is that power lies in shaping people's consciousness rather than their actions.

In other words, without forcing them to do something visibly it is possible to make them do regarding that as natural and beneficial for them. This can be true where people's preferences are often influenced by social experiences such as culture, education and media and these can be manipulated by those who have the power. In this way it naturally leads to the concept of 'false consciousness' which reflects the idea that people are "prevented from recognizing the fact of its own exploitation"8 However Luke's argument also faces severe criticism.

Back in the example of Anna and Ben, the critical point is not in the fact that Anna forced Ben to do something that he would not otherwise do, but in the fact that Ben behaved in a way which is contrary to his genuine interest. This raises a problematic point that who is to know Ben's real interests. In effect, "It is impossible to argue that people's perceptions and preferences are a delusion, that their 'felt' needs are no their 'real' need, without a standard of truth against which to judge them. "9

In this sense this debate become meaningless since there is no scientific method which to prove and make an absolute judgement over this. Furthermore it is contested that nobody is capable of distinguishing the autonomous decision based on real interests and the one based on felt interests being manipulated from powerful. To conclude, the debate over the concept of power has been developed from the shallow one dimensional understanding to a more intuitive and complex three dimensional one. It cannot be said that the effort of developing it into more sophisticated form has always been successful.

However through this process, it is true to say that the concept of power has been understood from various approaches which enabled better understanding. Nevertheless the important point to note is that the latter has never attempted to replace or deny the former approach since no single argument can define the political concept of power by its own. Rather, it has its root in the former argument and tries to make it more convincing. From this point of view, power is definitely something which enables 'A gets B to do something that he or she would not otherwise do'.

Therefore on one hand, it is possible to say that the essence of power lies in this argument to a certain extent but there can be plural ways depending on approaches in doing so. (1,419 words)


Clegg, S. R. (1989:11) Frameworks of Power. London: SAGE Publications Ltd. Hay, C. (2002:168) Political Analysis: A critical introduction. Basingstoke: Palgrave. Heywood, A. (2004:122, 124, 125, 127 and 128) Political theory: An introduction (3rd edn). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Goverde, H. et al. (eds) (2000:26) Power in Contemporary Politics. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.