Power: A Radical View

Lukes, Steven 2005. Power: A Radical View. Second Edition. Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

The trouble seems to be that both Bachrach and Baratz and the pluralists suppose that because power, as they conceptualize it, only shows up in cases of actual conflict, it follows that actual conflict is necessary to power. But this is to ignore the crucial point that the most effective and insidious use of power is to prevent such conflict from arising in the first place. (Lukes 2005: 27)
In the first place, they are revisionary persuasive refinitions of power which are out of line with the central meanings of 'power' as traditionally understood and with the concerns that have always centrally preoccupied students of power. They focus on the locution 'power to', ignoring 'power over'. Thus power indicates a 'capacity', a 'facility', an 'ability', not a relationship. Accordingly, the conflictual aspect of power - the fact that it is exercised over people - dissapears altogether from view. And along with it there disappears the central interest of studying power relations in the first place - an interest in the (attempted or successful) securing of people's compliance by overcoming or averting their opposition. (Lukes 2005: 34)
...the word 'power' is polysemic: like, say, the words 'social' and 'political', it has multiple and diverse meanings, appropriate to different settings and concerns. Another is that, like the word 'game', 'power' denotes a range of different objects or referents that have no single common essence, no one property that they all share other than their name: it exhibits what Wittgenstein called 'family resemblance'. (Lukes 2005: 61)
Third, consider the telation between power and intention. Bertrand Russell defined power as 'the production of intended effects' (Russell 1938: 25), Max Weber and C. Wright Mills connected power with the realization of the 'will' of the powerful, and many, like Goldman, think that power involves 'getting what one wants' (Goldman 1972, 1974a, b). Obviously, some abilities are abilities to bring about intended consequences. (There are actually two possibilities here: the ability to bring about what I actually intend, and the ability to bring about what I might, hypothetically, intend). (Lukes 2005: 76)
Moreover, the features of agents that make them powerful include those that render activity unnecessary. If I can achieve the appropriate outcomes without having to act, because of the attitudes of others towards me or because of a favorable alignment of social relations and forces facilitating such outcomes, then my power is surely all the greater. It may derive from what has been called the rule of anticipated reactions (Friedrich 1941: 589-91), where others anticipate my expected reactions to unwelcome activity (or inactivity) on their part, thereby aiming to forestall overt coercion: a clear example is the self-censorship practiced by writers and journalists under authoritarian regimes. The inactive power accumulated by such regimes is, of course, often the residue of past uses of active power, often coercive and sometimes on a massive scale. (Lukes 2005: 77-78)
Spinoza's formula enables us to see what is at issue here, for it can be given various interpretations that go beyond the minimal view, not all of which are mutually compatible. Here I can only sketch what is involved in the different ways there are of answering the question: 'What do my nature and my judgment dictate?', among which Spinoza's own way is only one. The formula plausibly suggests that we think of freedom as autonomy (broadly understood), that is as invoking the ideas of authenticity (being true to one's nature or 'self') and autonomy (more narrowly understood - thinking for oneself). On Spinoza's own account, living (authentically) according to the dictates of one's judgment is to be rational. (Lukes 2005: 115)
...the victims of domination are to be seen as tactical and strategic actors, who dissemble in order to survive; as Tilly puts it, 'compliance, under Scott's microscope, turns out to be a sort of constant rebellion' (Tilly 1991: 598) or to cite the Ethiopian proverb Scott uses as an epigraph to his book, 'When the great lord passes, the wise peasant bows deeply and silently farts.' He adduces evidence of two main kinds. On the one hand, there are the 'hidden transcripts' - generated in secluded settings, behind the scenes in the victims' 'life apart in the slave quarters, the village, the household, and in religious and ritual life', in 'a social space in which offstage dissent to the official transcript of power relations may be voiced', in forms such as 'linguistic disguises, ritual codes, taverns, fairs, the "hush arbors" of slave religion' and consisting in 'hopes of a returning prophet, ritual aggression via witchcraft, celebration of bandit heroes and resistance martyrs' (pp. 85, xi). On the other hand, there are the open but disguised expressions of ideological insubordination that can be decoded by interpreting 'the rumors, gossip, folktales, songs, gestures, jokes and theater of the powerless as vehicles by which, among other things, they insinuate a critique of power while hiding behind anonymity or behind innocuous understandings of their conduct' (p. xiii). (Lukes 2005: 124-125)
There are convincing and well-studied cases, in both pre-modern and modern settings, of 'bodily knowledge' reflecting and reproducing hierarchies of social positions with 'fields' (see, for instance, Wacquant 2003), but how far can they be generalized? Where, when and how does tacit, practical embodied knowledge set limits to 'discursive' learning and self-transformation? Our ways of speaking doubtless go deep, and it is both plausible and illuminating to see social significance in the ways people view, use and treat their bodies, as 'body language', for instance, expressing and perpetuating class, gender and indeed national identities. But these can also be understood as responses to a whole array of 'discursive' cultural influences, from early socialization to religious teachings and the mass media, that are in turn subject to political influence and to historical changes. (So, for instance, it is likely that, after decades of feminism, there will have been changes in how young women view, hold and use their bodies, in sport, say, or during pregnancy.) (Lukes 2005: 143)


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