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Political Power

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'A gets B to do something that he or she would not otherwise do'. Does this sum up the essence of political power? "Political analysis can be defined quite simply as the analysis of the nature, exercise and distribution of power."1 This argument is criticised of being too broad, excluding almost nothing, nevertheless it is reasonable to argue that power is the central theme which lies throughout the study of politics. Therefore defining the concept of power is one of the crucial things in the study of politics consequently it is often contested and can never be agreed among the scholars. This essay will focus on so-called the 'faces of power' controversy in the post war period. First of all, the idea which consists of the first and basic part in interpreting power will be introduced. Then what its critiques argue and their flaws will also be discussed to draw the conclusion how far the argument 'A gets B to do something that he or she would not otherwise do' reflects the essence of power. The 'faces of power' debate was raised from different theoretical traditions and approaches to political analysis. Basically the argument is about whether the concept of power is simple and quantifiable or it is rather complicated and intuitive concept which cannot be measured. Lukes2 acknowledges that this concept can never be settled. ...read more.


Moreover, it does not take the potential power into account. In this manner, the power which is not exerted cannot be regarded as power. For instance, some business groups would not be concerned with the welfare issues until they realise the increased burden for welfare tax. Then it might be possible for them to begin exercising their power which has not been exercised without any explicit need for it. Also as assumed from its name, it only uncovers 'one face of power' ignoring other circumstances "in which decisions are prevented from happening, the area of non-decision-making."4 This gave a rise to the second face of power argument by Bachrach and Baratz. According to their view, power should be understood as agenda-setting which is the two dimensional approach. "Power might be manifested not only in doing things but also in ensuring that things do not get done."5 What they basically insist is that power is exercised in choosing what should be involved in formal discussion and what should not be. In other words, who holds the power needs to be understood in agenda-setting process before the actual decision-making process. In this way, they have broadened the boundary in the concept of power. This kind of approach is well shown in the liberal democratic system where parties are seen as the medium of representing a particular preference on issues. ...read more.


'real' need, without a standard of truth against which to judge them."9 In this sense this debate become meaningless since there is no scientific method which to prove and make an absolute judgement over this. Furthermore it is contested that nobody is capable of distinguishing the autonomous decision based on real interests and the one based on felt interests being manipulated from powerful. To conclude, the debate over the concept of power has been developed from the shallow one dimensional understanding to a more intuitive and complex three dimensional one. It cannot be said that the effort of developing it into more sophisticated form has always been successful. However through this process, it is true to say that the concept of power has been understood from various approaches which enabled better understanding. Nevertheless the important point to note is that the latter has never attempted to replace or deny the former approach since no single argument can define the political concept of power by its own. Rather, it has its root in the former argument and tries to make it more convincing. From this point of view, power is definitely something which enables 'A gets B to do something that he or she would not otherwise do'. Therefore on one hand, it is possible to say that the essence of power lies in this argument to a certain extent but there can be plural ways depending on approaches in doing so. ...read more.

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