Nature of power and its application in Society

Theories of power envisage three dimensions of power. The first dimension – the overt type – considers power as a single-dimension relation i.e. where the individual exercising power can make the subject do something that he would not have done were it not for the power bearer – power as described by Dahl (1957). In such an aspect, the power may be evaluated by observing behavior with aspects such as the participants and the individual who gains and one who loses being critical aspects in determining the existing power relationships (Sadan 2004; Ledyaev 2008). In this one-dimensional aspect, various assumptions underlie its establishment. For instance, in decision-making processes the one-dimensional approach assumes that individuals will recognize grievances and act to correct such grievances (Sadan 2004).  Secondly, the approach assumes that participation in power relations occurs openly in decision-making places and thirdly that places for decision-making are open to any organized group (Sadan 2004). Finally, this approach contends that leaders do not hold any personal interest; their role being only to represent the ideals or voices of the populace they lead (Sadan 2004).

Based on these assumptions, the single dimension approach leads to a conclusion that the inaction or non-participation of individuals in decision-making processes is not in itself a social problem but rather a decision by such non-participants. As such, the inactivity of deprived groups e.g. individuals with a low socio-economic status, according to this dimension is out of their indifference, cynicism or political incapacity with regard to the decision-making activities (Sadan 2004). By blaming the inactivity on the victim, the solution then would be to attempt a change in the non-participatory behavior of the victim through such activities as education and social integration. To gain advantages in the decision arena, power bearers could use resources and talents they have in bringing about the desired effect, which for instance could involve domination of the subject (Cox, Furlong & Page 1985; Djike & Poppe 2006; Ledyaev 2008). People controlling a high number of votes could for instance influence decisions to their favor whereas individuals with political experience may use such talent to gain an advantage over novices. In effect, such view of power undertakes that the power bearer has the ability to use resources at his disposal to overcome resistance in achieving a particular end (Barnett & Duvall 2005).  A major critique of this view of power is that it may not offer explanations into the reasons that lead to inactivity in groups with low status, low education or low-income levels (Sadan 2004). Similarly, explaining differences in behavior in groups with similar characteristic but in different locations could present a challenge to such a dimension of power (Sadan 2004).

A second dimension of power envisages power as a two dimensional concept, a covert approach that power does not only involve a triumph over other individuals; but also encompasses actions to prevent participation of such other individuals in the power relation i.e. separation from the means of power (Sadan 2004; Corra 2005). For instance, in a critic of Dahl (1957) model of power, Bachrach and Baratz (1962) developed a model – the two faces of power – that doubted the democratic assumption buttressed by the single dimensional power approach. The paper argued that the single dimensional approach avoids the covert face of power that at times a strategy could exist to mobilize bias with an aim of preventing discussions of certain issues (Bachrach & Baratz 1962). The effect of such an action would be the categorization of some issues as important and other issues as non-important hence affecting the issues that will occupy decision-making processes. In such a way, this aspect considers that a characteristic of power is to determine whether some aspects would find their way into the discussion arena (Sadan 2004). To assess this type of power dimension one needs to observe the processes involved in such power relations and the individuals involved in deciding when, how, and what processes take place (Sadan 2004).

The introduction of covert aspect of power then allows a conclusion somewhat different from that made under the overt dimension. In activity or non-participation in decision-making processes in such a concept becomes an outcome of fear and weakness, but not necessarily a result of indifference (Sadan 2004). This dimension, similarly to the first dimension also assumes that the powerless are fully aware of their condition. In such a way, the covert approach also does not explain how power prevents certain issues from featuring in discussions (Sadan 2004). Similarly, the dimension does not take into account the possibility that the powerless could have acquired a distorted consciousness resulting from existing power relations (Sadan 2004). In application however, the two dimensional approach is exemplified in various activities. For instance, such an approach is evident in discussions that take precedence in places such as the parliament, what the preacher preaches in the pulpit or what the shareholders discuss in an organization’s annual general meeting. In international relations for instance, aspects such as human rights and children’s rights never made it to UN agenda until after many decades following the World War II but such issues have become a common occurrence in modern-day UN deliberations (Barnett & Duvall 2005)

A third dimension of power – the true interests approach – contends the powerless response to power actions of the bearer arises because the latter influences and shapes the will of the powerless (Sadan 2004). Such a perspective contends that power relations could be devoid of open conflicts characteristic of the overt dimension. Gaventa (1980) for instance assessed the concept of quiescence – the prevailing silence even where glaring inequalities occur (p.3). His book assesses why in grave conditions of oppression and discrimination, the oppressed do not show resistance to the existing rule. In the assessment, the book argues that such resistance is absent because the powerful do not only use power to prevent the rise of conflicts but also use such power to achieve social quiescence (Gaventa 1980). Thus the purpose of power in the three dimensional aspect is preventing individuals or groups from participating in the decision process and achieve a passive agreement to the process being undertaken (Sadan 2004). Unlike the overt position where silence is due to indifference (a desire not to participate), this dimension contends that such silence is a mute compliance with the current state of affairs (Sadan 2004).  Although an open conflict does not occur for this perspective, a potential conflict could arise where true interests of power activators and those of individuals excluded diverge (Sadan 2004). Go to part 3 here.

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