Sunday, 9 November 2014


The first dimension of power fits in with the pluralist view and states that there is an open, transparent system, while recognising that political resources are not distributed evenly, they are also not completely centralised with a small group of the elite. The real decision-making power i.e the power to vote on legislation, introduce new bills rests with political actors. However they are influenced by a number of other factors such as their constituents, lobbyists and pressure groups and I think that this view of power fails to highlight how the political agenda can be controlled or manipulated. Power is often exercised in a much more subtle way that the one dimensional view suggests. 

Lukes second dimension of power is an elitist view of power. This view recognises the power we can see, like in the one dimensional view but also acknowledges that power is also involved when specific issues are left off the agenda in order to avoid conflict. The first dimension would only look at the apparently open discussion and the results of conflict over matters actually allowed onto the agenda, but miss the more subtle exercise of power (Lukes, 1974: 19). 

Lukes describes the third dimension as being the “supreme and most insidious exercise of power”. I think a good example of this type of power in action is the way in which capitalists have manipulated the interests of the working classes to believe that capitalism is in fact in their best interest rather than communism. Through channels such as education and media the ruling class have been able to instil these values to the extent where people see no alternative.

 I believe that this view of power best illustrates the society we live in today while the other two dimensions show a weaker type of power. 


Steven Lukes defines the concept of power by saying that “A exercises power over B when A affects B in a manner contrary to B’s interests.” (Lukes, 2005:37) He describes power as having three dimensions and has divided power into three distinct ‘faces’, each focusing on a specific aspect of power. These include; decision-making power, agenda-setting power and ideological power.

The first face of power is decision-making power. This is the ‘open face’ of power, the ability to control or influence in an open and direct way. When decisions are made, people clearly understand how they have come about and why they have been made. It is the classic idea of political power, meaning the government has the power to make decisions on behalf of the people. This face of power allows the people to have a say, for example, through elections, referendums and lobbying MPs to use this power in a particular way. The process is open to forms of scrutiny throughout and therefore it can be argued that power, in this case, can be seen as legitimised.

The next form of power Lukes mentions is agenda-setting power, it is the secretive face i.e. power is exercised behind closed doors. Lukes said  that you have real power if you can set the agenda. This is because you can decide or limit what will be discussed and more importantly what cannot be discussed, effectively controlling the situation. Lukes argues that power is not just about decision making, it is about preventing decisions being made or reducing the choices which can be made. In my opinion this form of power was created and is effectively used by the the powerful to ignore the demands of the weak through methods such as avoidance, delay or bureaucracy. Wealthy pressure groups and organisations such as tobacco companies are able to take advantage of this dimension of power to keep, for example, restrictive legislation on cigarettes from ever reaching the legislative process and in doing so are able to ensure there is no opportunity for change that could effect them negatively. 

The third dimension of power Lukes highlights is ideological power or the power to shape desires. It seeks to identify “the means through which power influences, shapes or determines conceptions of necessities, possibilities and strategies of challenge in situation of conflict” (Gaventa, 1982: 15).  It allows powerful groups, such as government or big business, to make people think that they agree to something or want something that may actually be harmful to their own interests. Those who hold power within the system will be accepted by the people, due to the peoples' belief in the system (Lukes, 1974: 23).

It describes the idea that power can be used to manipulate someone to do what you want by changing what it is they actually want or need e.g workers accepting the capitalist system. Ideological power can be exercised through ideological institutions such as religion or the media i.e. the elite/‘A’ take control of information and media channels and ‘B’  is socialised into accepting and even supporting the ideas put forward by ‘A’.