Essay: Political Power
Written by Anastasia Zubkova, group 171
As we study political science we should clarify what is Political Power because it’s one of the basic theoretical concept of studied subject. Understanding of what is power gives us an idea of how the state works and how it is related to society. There are a lot of questions arise when you start to study the problem. When did the concept of power has emerged? How it is applied today? Is there only one concrete definition of power or we need to take into account the nuances when applying this notion to different cases? The diversity of approaches tells us that the topic is still relevant. I won’t try to find a solution to the problems by myself because I’m not such a great scholar yet but I would like to compare interpretations of such a phenomenon.
But before we examine conditions and elements of the term, we need to realize why do we have such thing as domination. There are several explanations for that according to Roskin: biological, psychological, cultural, rational and irrational CITATION Ros16 l 1033 (Roskin, 2016). Each of them introduces the reason why mankind can’t do without any authority. My favorite is a rational one because there is always ground for both action or inaction (and usually it’s benefits). Rationality makes people install rules and government in order to improve and simplify their life. Hence, there is an interest in setting power relationship.
Now, according to Weber, domination is «the probability that certain specific commands will be obeyed by a given group of persons» CITATION Web58 l 1033 (Weber, 1958). It is important to understand that scientist considers power as relations directed towards something or someone. And as it is the relation there must necessarily be actors – who has the authority and who submits to it. At the same time, we don’t assume that it may be relations when subject is the same as an object or when the object does what subject wants accidently. Power relations are only those where we can observe imposition of the will and subordination. Unfortunately, this theory isn’t so perfect that it could cover all issues CITATION 02 l 1033 (??, 2002).
The one who improved Weber’s idea was Robert Dahl: «A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do» CITATION Dah57 l 1033 (Dahl, 1957). This interpretation more accurately reveals the meaning of power as we go further and see what Dahl includes in it. Scholar provides us with such characteristics as base or source of power, means or what is used by the subject to influence the object, amount or how much power does A has over B and, finally, scope of power.
The crucial difference between these two theories is that one finds power as potential (Weber) and another claims that power is actual (Dahl). This «problem of potential and actual» tells that usually experts may consider power either as not current action or impact but mostly as opportunity or ability to impact on an object or in terms of causal links as exercising power when potential is usedCITATION 01 l 1049 (, 2001).
In my opinion, potential approach is more applicable. It involves more aspects which allow us to investigate some situations as power relations. Authority is not always only implementation of the will. We may not practice it at a certain moment because we don’t need to (returning to rational explanation of power) but we still may have an opportunity to use power whenever we want get something. That is why this theory is also more humane than previous. Take a nuclear weapon as an example. Countries which have it don’t bomb each other just because they can. The fact that they don’t ruin others doesn’t mean that they have no authority (as it would be according to actual approach). So they don’t need to prove they do by actions. This is I think exactly wat we call domination.
Another facet we should study is power classification. Which groups of sub-types exist and how they differ is no less important question. Robinson in his paper introduces «three faces of power» CITATION Rob06 l 1049 (Robinson, 2006) referring to the works of scientists with diverse views.
First face is Decision-Making. Here again we meet actual approach and author of this type Robert Dahl (and his interpretation). Power is represented as something material. So we can measure power in number of decisions that actor may make on conflicts of interests and win. Thus, the more satisfactory decisions actor makes the more powerful he is. It happens because of existence pluralistic society. Also the object knows about influence from subject and it makes the seizure of power more complicated CITATION Luk74 l 1033 (Lukes, 1974). Usually in this type law-making is used.
Next face is Agenda Setting. Its founders differ this sort of power from previous by claiming that the society we live in is not that pluralistic as some persons may think CITATION Bac62 l 1033 (Bachrach ; Baratz, 1962). The subject (A) controls the information that the object (B) receives and manipulate it in the way A wants. By misleading and distract B from pressing problems A gains the reaction he or she expect from B in order to continue doing that is beneficial for A. For this form lobbying and agenda-setting are common tools. As an example we may take a mass media influenced by the state which post news only in beneficial for government interpretation.
The last but not the least is Manipulation and Preferences Formation. Lukes argues that authors of previous face overlooked one important detail – potential power approach CITATION Rob06 l 1033 (Robinson, 2006). This type explains how A forms B’s perceptions and interests by setting propaganda. The example is how ideological hegemony worked in the USSR substituting preferences.
Another system of power classification given by Joseph Nye Jr. As for me, this system is much simpler and more applicable in practice. In the book political scientist contrasts two kinds of power is used in international relations: soft power and hard one CITATION Nye04 l 1033 (Nye, 2004). By the soft power he means country’s culture, language and economic development which plays key role in constructing world politics. And obviously hard power described as set of rude actions aimed at achieving desired by force. This categorization is quite similar to earlier one. It also distinguishes coercive power from the opposite.
List of references
BIBLIOGRAPHYBachrach, P., ; Baratz, M. (1962). Two Faces of Power, (Vol. 56). American Poitical Science Review.
Dahl, R. A. (1957). The Concept of Power, Behavioral Science, 2, 3.
Lukes, S. (1974). Power: A Radical View. London: Macmillan Press.
Nye, J. S. (2004). Soft power: The means to success in world politics. Public Affairs.
Robinson, N. (2006). Learning from Lukes?: The Three Faces of Power and European Union.
Roskin, M. G. (2016). Political Science: An Introduction. 14th edition. Pearson Education, USA.
Weber, M. (1958). The three types of legitimate rule. Berkeley Publications in Society and Institutions, Trans. Gerth, H., 4:1, 1-1.
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