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



References: Frank, Thomas. (2005) What’s the matter with Kansas?: How conservatives won the heart of America. Henry holt and Company, LLC. New York, NY. Haugaard, Mark. (2003) Power: A Reader. Manchester University Press. Lukes, Steven. (2005) Power: A Radical View. Palgrave Macmillan. New York, NY. First published 1974.

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