False Consciousness

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Q.3 Lukes’ third dimension of power is controversial because it entails the use of the concept of ‘false consciousness’. Using examples of your own, defend and / or critique the hypothesis that there is such thing as ‘false consciousness’.

Power has always been a contested and controversial topic and is one of the most central concepts in the social sciences. With regard to the concept of power, the issue of domination and what domination is has also been widely debated. While most people would assume that domination is achieved by coercion or the overt threat of sanctions, a more interesting theory is that people consent to their own domination. This idea seems bizarre as when we think of domination we imagine a ruthless dictator dominating the masses through fear and violence or we think of an overbearing personality attempting to exert complete control over a weaker subordinate through threat and intimidation. What doesn’t come to mind when we think of domination is a person willingly allowing another to exert power over them and at the same time being completely oblivious to the fact that they are being dominated by some individual or group who has hidden from that individual there actual interests and replaced them with interests that favor themselves instead. The question then is how is willing compliance to domination secured?

This is a question that is addressed by Steven Luke’s in his book ‘Power: A Radical view’. In his short essay Luke’s argues that the less powerful peoples wants may be a product of a system which works against their interests and obscures the truth in a direction that suits the interests of the dominant and powerful groups. This in essence is what is referred to as False Consciousness. False consciousness refers to ideology dominating the consciousness of exploited groups and classes, which at the same time justifies and perpetuates their exploitation. The concept of false consciousness is Marxist in its roots and comes from Marxist explanations of the non-revolutionary nature of the proletariat and the theoretical opposition between science and ideology (Haugaard, 2003). In Marxist theory, false consciousness is basically the result of the failure of the proletariat to realize their real material conditions in relation to the bourgeois due to ideological control which the proletariat do not realize they are under. However Luke’s criticizes the Marist approach seeing that the concept has applicability in wider areas than class and also because it “claims to have some privileged access external to the actors” (Lukes, 2005). Luke’s theory of power and false consciousness came about through an in-satisfaction with both Robert Dahl and Bachrach and Baratz behavioral focus on power. Lukes argued that power had three faces. The public face as studied by Dahl and which relates to the study of concrete observable power. The second dimension of power, which is the hidden face and was proposed by Bachrach and Baratz. This dimension points to the forces that keep potential controversial issues off the agenda of decision making arenas. However Lukes third dimension of power looks at an even more insidious face of power. Lukes looks beyond the analysis of observable conflicts, instead focusing on power in its invisible form in that people sometimes act willingly in ways that are contrary to their best interests. According to Lukes the effects of power are not exhausted by decision-making and agenda construction but operate at a deeper level that people are not conscious of. Lukes believed this to be the most insidious exercise of power because it keeps conflict from coming to the surface in the first place. In this way Lukes defines power in terms of interests – ‘A exercise power over B when A affects B in a manner contrary to B’s interests’ (Haugaard, 2003). Whether such a thing as false consciousness exists has been a debatable topic since its emergence. Could it really be that the things we...
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