Dahl’s method of thinking
The method of study was to select a number of ‘key’ decision making areas; identify the actors involved and discover their preferences; and, finally, analyse the decisions made and compare these with the known preferences of the actors. (Political theory an introduction, Heywood, A. ). Dahl’s method of thinking and the type of study he used was greatly adopted by American sociologists throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The most famous study of this kind was actually by Dahl himself.
He analysed the distribution of power in New Haven (Who Governs, 1963), focusing on local communities.
Dahl claimed to have found evidence that different elite groups determined policy in different issue areas, ruling out any idea of a permanent elite. He concluded, “New Haven is an example of a democratic system”. Dahl research in New Heaven illustrates that there has never been a struggle for power, as the community does not want a power of authority.
However Dahl has been criticised, as he solely concentrated exclusively on decision making, which means that only one side of power could have been analysed, and therefore the area of non-decision making would have been ignored.
The theory of Steven Lukes
Steven Lukes (1974) has suggested a theory that there are three faces of power (A Radical View’ in Power). The first face or dimension is the ‘decision making’; Lukes believed power involved making decisions over issues where different individuals or groups express different policy preferences. An example of this in practise would be the government proposing laws; it would be highly debated amongst politicians, however eventually the bill may become an Act. In this decision making process, power lies in the Government, and any groups of opposition would have to accept the outcome.
The second face of power would be non-decision making. An example of Lukes’ second dimension of power being used could be if a teacher decided to give the choice to the pupils of whether or not they should do homework. The pupils will believe that they have power, but in reality they haven’t since the teacher still remains in total control. (Politics, Thompson, P. ) This type of power is known as ‘power behind closed doors’, and the individuals or groups stay in control by limiting the amount of decisions that are possible for the person to make, leaving themselves in control.
The third face of Lukes’ view on power is about manipulation by the people in authority. Lukes’ believes that people in positions of power have the ability to shape and manipulate desires of different social groups. People can be manipulated into believing something is better for them, when it really is not, or the other way around. For example a powerful group wants to veto a particular policy, even though the majority of people stand to benefit from this policy, yet the powerful group would then manipulate public opinion and succeed in persuading most people that they should oppose a policy that would benefit them.
Lukes’ faces of power show a negative side to power, legitimacy and obligation. These three faces show power and authority to be manipulative and deceiving and it clearly demonstrates that those in authority have hidden agendas. In conclusion the quote ‘today’s authority is the site of yesterday’s struggle for power’ is true but only to a certain extent. The contract theorist’s view of power shows that the mass population of a community have always wanted authority, and in such an instance then YES today’s authority is the site of yesterday’s struggle for power.
The American Revolution and the ‘Great Revolution’
Examples such as the American Revolution and the ‘Great Revolution’ clearly demonstrate that struggles for power lead the way to authoritarian system. The question is what would America look like today if that revolution had not of taken place? Many struggles have taken place over power, within America there have been many smaller revolutions for power, for example the African Americans have fought for equal rights, which has allowed the way for some African Americans to have important political employment and more.
Dahl on the other hand disagreed and found the above statement to be incorrect, as he believed that communities can be equally democratic; however his research did receive large of criticism, and thus his theories do not hold as much ground. Finally Lukes’ three faces of power show a more negative side to power and people in authority. Lukes’ talks of deceit, manipulation and lies, in his eyes, those in power are deceiving the state.
- A critique of Steven Lukes’ “Power: a radical view”,
- Bradshaw Alan Politics, Heywood Andrew Politics UK (4th Edition),
- Bill Jones UK Politics Today, Cooney.
Cite this essay
Barbara Goodwin. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/barbara-goodwin-10781-new-essay