Currently Reading: Steven Lukes’s “Power: A Radical View”

Steven Lukes’ Power: A Radical View is a seminal work still widely used some 30 years after publication. The second edition includes the complete original text alongside two major new essays. One assesses the main debates about how to conceptualize and study power, including the influential contributions of Michel Foucault. The other reconsiders Steven Lukes’ own views in light of these debates and of criticisms of his original argument. With a new introduction and bibliographical essay, this book will consolidate its reputation as a classic work and a major reference point within social and political theory.

This is a scary book when you realize what kinds of minds are out there thinking up schizoidal justifications for a New World Order of total control.

Lukes’s best-known, still controversial academic theory is his so-called ‘radical’ view of power. It can be simply stated. It claims there are three dimensions of power. The first is overt power, typically exhibited in the presence of conflict in decision-making situations, where power consists in winning, that is prevailing over another or others. The second is covert power, consisting in control over what gets decided, by ignoring or deflecting existing grievances. And the third is the power to shape desires and beliefs, thereby averting both conflict and grievances. The first is the most public of the three and is how the powerful usually want to be seen: for instance, the power of political leaders to make policy decisions after widespread consultation with opposition parties and the wider public. The second is the power to control agendas. It has been called the ‘mobilization of bias,’ reinforcing the powerful by excluding threatening issues from discussion in public forums. The third kind of power can be the most insidious. It is the most hidden from view—the least accessible to observation by social actors and observers alike. It can be at work, despite apparent consensus between the powerful and the powerless. It is the power to influence people’s wishes and thoughts, inducing them to want things opposed to what would benefit them and to fail to want what they would, but for such power, recognize to be in their real interests.

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