POLITICAL STUDIES REVIEW: 2006 VOL 4, 136–145
Three-Dimensional Power: A Discussion of Steven Lukes’ Power: A Radical View Keith Dowding
London School of Economics and Political Science Lukes’ third dimension of power exists where people are subject to domination and acquiesce in that domination. The intentional stance allows us to predict and explain others’ behaviour in ways that those agents may not recognise. It denies agents’ privileged access to their own reasons for actions. Using the intentional stance we can understand how agents may acquiesce in their own domination. We can also make distinctions between those who dominate knowingly and those who dominate without realising they do so. It allows us to distinguish morally such cases and to understand the power structure without falling into the Foucaultian trap of seeing all social relationships in the same relativistic light and where all – dominant and dominated alike – are subject to the same power relations and moral responsibility.
Steven Lukes’ Power: A Radical View was enormously inﬂuential for such a short book. As well as spawning a large debate among conceptual theorists it also led to a number of empirical studies attempting to measure the impact of power’s third dimension on people’s lives. Its re-issue with two new long essays is to be much welcomed.1 The ﬁrst new essay locates Lukes’ original book in the context of the ‘community power debate’ and importantly distinguishes his third-dimensional view from Foucault’s position. Here Lukes nicely demonstrates the thinking behind Foucault’s writing and argues that studies which show that people willingly comply in patterns of normative control do not sustain the radical Foucault view that there can be no freedom since we are all constituted of power. His second essay – ‘Three-Dimensional Power’ – attempts to locate the sense of freedom or autonomy in relationship to the patterns of power that exist. It is upon this second essay that I will concentrate my attention. I will suggest that we can defend Lukes’ third dimension of power by taking up the intentional stance (Dennett, 1987). Lukes wants to be able to identify and criticise values that lead dominated people to acquiesce and even celebrate their own domination. At the same time he does not want to fall into the Foucaultian trap where all social relationships are seen in the same relativistic light and where all – dominated and dominant alike – are subject to the same power of structural relations and so all subject to the same moral opprobrium. I argue that agents’ values might be naturally rationalised, even though the reasons agents have for acting might be neither conscious nor recognisable to © 2006 The Author. Journal compilation © 2006 Political Studies Association
them. I argue that this allows us to be critical of values, but only if we carefully demarcate the beliefs and desires that constitute value systems.2 The intentional stance allows us to interpret and efﬁciently predict the actions of people in ways that may or may not coincide with their own rationalisation of their behaviour. Both their and our rationalisation of that behaviour is subject to critique both in terms of the truth of the beliefs in it and in the character of the desires underlying it. For Lukes the most insidious and important form of power is domination.3 His third dimension occurs not only where there is domination, but where the dominated acquiesce in their domination. Such acquiescence may happen in both a thick and a thin sense (Scott, 1990): the thick sense where people actively believe the values which oppress them and the thin where they are merely resigned to them. Scott endorses the thin view; Lukes is correct that both occur. Much of his second essay is about the acquiescence of the dominated: its forms and its causes. Here I will support Lukes against his critics, but argue that Lukes leaves too much unexplained in...
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