Is Power Central to Understanding Politics?

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Is power central to our understanding of politics? In what way does Foucault's concept of power alter conventional understanding of politics?

The notion of power had a time honoured status in the history of political science. The concept of power has gained prominence in the recent times especially with emergence of Behaviouralism as a method of studying politics. It focuses on the study of politics as a process or activity with an interdisciplinary approach. The debate on the centrality of the concept of power for understanding the politics is the interaction with the different space and time. And the intervention of Foucault comes in this way as a breakthrough from the conventional notions of power.

The Power: Meaning, Nature, Significance and Characteristics The English noun power derives from the Latin ‘petere’, which means “to be able”. At the simplest level, power is seen as the ability of a person to get his will done by another person or a group even against the will of that person or group. The power achieves different meaning in its relational, bilateral and situational characteristics. And it should be discussed in relation with the concepts of force, manipulation, persuasion authority and legitimacy. It can be also noticed that the notion of power is discussed in different angles like political power, economic power and ideological power according to varied schools of thought. Like any other concepts of politics, power is also an essentially contested concept and different thinkers have tried to define the politics in relation to power. The explanation of Frederick Watkins was one among this debate in the early phase of development of modern political science. He observed that “the proper scope of political science is not the study of state or of any other specific institutional complex, but the investigation of all associations in so far they can be shown to exemplify the problem of power” 1. This view was confirmed by William A. Robson 2 who suggested: “It is with the power in society that political science is primarily concerned- its nature, basis, processes, scope and results’ The significance of power in political phenomenon can be traced in the works of traditional thinkers like Aristotle (427-322 BC), Machiavelli (1469-1679), Hobbes (1588-1679) and Nietzsche (1844-1900) as well as modern writers like Max Webber, Lasswell, A. Kaplan, Hans Morgenthau, Michel Foucault. Scholars like Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923), Gaetano Mosca (1858-1941), Robert Michels, C. Wright Mills, Robert Dahl and Steven Lukes also tried to uncover this dynamics .For H.Laswell and A.Kaplan Politics is the study of shaping and sharing power 3. For Burtrand Russel power is fundamental concept in political science in the same sense that energy is treated as a fundamental concept in physics. Max Webber explains power in the context of national as well as in international politics: “Politics is the struggle for the power or the influencing of those in power, and embraces the struggle between states as well as between organized groups within the state”. The meaning of power is also highly discussed in political discourses. Bertrand Russel 4 has defined power as ‘the production of intended effects’. Robert Dahl 5 defined power as a kind of influence; it is exercised ‘when compliance is attained by creating the prospect of severe sanctions for non-compliance’. In brief the debate about the power directly or indirectly is related to the broad concepts of authority and legitimacy.

Theories of Power
Generally theories of power are discussed in the light of different perspectives and outlooks the thinkers perceive. Broadly we can discuss this as follows.

Class Perspective:
Class perspective on power is based on Marxian interpretation of the social structure and state. It states that the political power is the product of economic power and ownership of the means of production determines the source of power. Antonio Gramsci added a new...
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