Luke's Three Dimensions of Power

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Luke's Three Dimensions of Power

"Power serves to create power. Powerlessness serves to re-enforce powerlessness"(Gaventa,1980:256). Such is the essence of the on going relationship between the Powerful and the Powerless of the Appalachian Valley where acquiescence of the repressed has become not only common practice but a way of life and a means of survival. In his novel Power and Powerlessness, John Gaventa examines the oppressive and desperate situation of the Appalachian coal miners under the autocratic power of absentee land-owners, local elites, and corrupt union leaders. His analyses is based on Lukes three-dimensional understanding of power from his book Power: A Radical View. Gaventa applies the three notions of power to the politics of inequalities in the Appalachian Valley and, while demonstrating the inadequacies of the first or 'pluralist' approach and the merits of the second and particularly the third dimensions, asserts that the interrelationship and reinforcing affect of all three dimensions is necessary for an in depth understanding of the "total impact of power upon the actions [or inactions] and conceptions of the powerless"(Gaventa:256)

This essay will examine Luke's three power dimensions and their applicability to Gaventa's account of the inequities found in the valleys of the Cumberland Mountains. Reasons for the mountain people's submission and non- participation will be recognized and their nexus with the power relationship established. In this way, Gaventa's dissatisfaction with the pluralist approach will be justified and the emphatic ability of the other two dimensions to withhold issues and shape behaviour will be verified as principal agents of Power and Powerlessness.

The one dimensional view of power is often called the 'pluralist' approach and emphasizes the exercise of power through decision making and observable behaviour. Robert Dahl, a major proponent of this view, defines power as occurring in a situation where "A has power over B to the extent he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do"(Dahl as cited in Lukes, 1974:11). A's power therefore is defined in terms of B and the extent to which A prevails is determined by its higher ratio of 'successes' and 'defeats' over B.

Observable behaviour then becomes a key factor in the pluralist approach to power. Dahl's Who Govern's? expresses the pluralist belief that the political arena is an open system where everyone may participate and express grievances which in turn lead to decision making. Those who propose alternatives and initiate issues which contribute to the decision making process are demonstrating observable influence and control over those who failed all together to express any interest in the political process.

The Pluralist approach assumes that in an open system, all people, not just the elite, would participate in decision making if they felt strongly enough about an issue and wanted their values to be expressed and represented. Non-participation therefore is thought to express a lack of grievances and a consensus with the way the leaders are already handling the system. Political inaction is not a problem within the one-dimensional system, it merely reflects apathy of ordinary citizens with little interest or knowledge for political matters, and their acceptance of the existing system which they see as rewarding mutual benefits to society.

While politics is primarily an elite concern to the pluralist, ordinary people can have a say if they become organized, and everyone has indirect influence through the right to the franchise in the electoral process. Pluralism recognizes a heterogeneous society composed of people belonging to various groups with differing and competing interests. Conflict is therefore also recognized as not only an expected result but as a necessary instrument which enables the determination of a ruling class in terms of who the winner is. Dahl,(as cited in...
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