Compare and Contrast 2 theories of power, illustrating your answer with examples from British Politics. Which theory do you find the most convincing? The concept of power is a core term in political science. According to Heywood: “Power, in its broadest sense, is the ability to achieve a desired outcome, and it is sometimes referred to in terms of the “power to” do something” (Heywood, 1997, 2002). Although it is one of the most important concepts in political science there are many different theories of power.
In this essay I shall look at Bachrach and Baratz’ two faces of power and also look at Lukes radical theory into power and illustrating examples from British politics try to compare and contrast these two theories. Peter Bachrach and Morton Baratz believed that there were two faces of power. They believed that power was the ability to vote on issues and that was observable, but they also believed that by keeping issues out of the political agenda that that was power in itself. They studied Dahl’s pluralism theory and found certain drawbacks.
One of these was that power may often be “exercised by confining the scope of decision-making to relatively “safe” issues” (Bachrach and Baratz 1962: 948) and another is that “… the model provides no objective criteria for distinguishing between “important” and “unimportant” issues arising in the political arena” (Bachrach and Baratz 1962: 948). What they are saying here is that in Dahl’s theory it lets people vote on issues but no one says which of the issues are important and also unimportant.
Bachrach and Baratz believed that there is elite that dominates politics and that this elite has the power to keep items off the political agenda that would be detrimental to the elites wishes and preferences. According to their 1962 study: “an A devotes his energies to creating or reinforcing social and political values and institutional practices that limit the scope of the political process to public consideration of only those issues which are comparatively innocuous to A” (Bachrach and Baratz 1962:948).
What they are saying is that B, who is not in the dominant role is hindered in raising issues that may be detrimental to A. This “non-decision making” can occur in 3 ways. First the powerful “… may not attend to, may not listen to or may not “hear” demands articulated by the less powerful” (Clegg, S. R 1989: 77). The next is through the rule of “anticipated reaction” that was first devised by Friedrich (1937) and this is where B will anticipate the fact that A will oppose and will therefore not raise an issue.
The last way in which the non-decision making process works is in the mobilisation of bias. A mobilisation of bias is “a set of predominant values, beliefs, rituals and institutional procedures that operate systematically and consistently to the benefit of certain persons and groups at the expense of others. Those who benefit are placed in a preferred position to defend and promote their vested interests.
“(Bachrach and Baratz, (1970):43-4) What happens here is that the elitist who have their interests at heart create enough support to make sure that the issue that could be harmful to them and not in their interests is kept away from the public sphere, where there is no chance of a debate of the issue, this then increases their power which in turn will make them more powerful to do this again in the future.
One of the examples of Bachrach and Baratz two faces of power in contemporary British politics is the plight of pensioners during winter time and the fact that a basic state pension is not sufficient to live on, and also at the same time when it comes to winter there are many pensioners suffering because they cannot afford to put their heating on and in some cases this can result in death. There is mass support for a sufficient state pension but the last few governments have been able to keep it out of the public sphere, to an extent.
One of the criticisms of this critique is that you cannot observe things and decisions that do not exist. For every issue that is on the political agenda then there are an infinite of other issues that are off the political agenda and even though they have support they are off the agenda for an infinite number of reasons. Where the 2 faces of power believes that power is in the hands not of those who can decide on issues but to keep issues off the political agenda is power itself Lukes third dimension of power sees it differently.
Lukes “radical view” says that to restrict the term “power” to situations in which actual and observable conflict is present is unrealistic as “power is also exercised when A influences or shapes the very preferences of B itself” (Hay, C, 1997). Lukes experiences of power is that power does not have to be exerted by keeping issues off the political agenda but by shaping peoples ideas and preferences so that they do not even think about them in the first place.
As he writes: “… Is it not the most insidious exercise of power to prevent people, to whatever degree , from having grievances by shaping their preferences in such a way that they accept their role in the existing order of things either because they can see or imagine no alternative to it, or because they see it as natural or unchangeable or because they value it is as divinely ordained and beneficial” (Lukes, 1974: p24 cited in Hay, C:1997).
One of the ways that the third face of politics has contemporary value is in Universities and in the numbers of undergraduates. The current Government have been aiming for a target of 50% of school leavers to go to University and become graduates. They have been shaping our wants in the respects that if we do not get a university degree then we shall not get a good job, at a time where the trades sector such as plumbers, builders, joiners and glaziers are struggling to find new apprentices and where there is a serious skills gap.
What can be said about Lukes theory of power is that it is self annihilating as if a person (B) actually realises their real interests and that they are contrary to what the power elite (A) have been shaping them for the power relationship stops. As Lukes says himself “… successful control by A over B… constitutes a violation of B’s autonomy; that B has a real interest in his own autonomy; so that such an exercise of power cannot be in B’s real interests. ” (Lukes, 1974 p. 33 as cited in Hay, C. 1997 p48).
Another criticism of Lukes view of power is that how can anyone scientifically study that what does not happen as for everyone of the events that does not happen there must be an infinity of alternatives and therefore which non-events are to be regarded as significant. One of the comparisons that can be taken from these two theories of power is that they both have sections where the influence of power is unobservable, and therefore how can you scientifically prove that every non-event and every issue that is not on the agenda is significant.
So therefore it can be argued that both these theories cannot be empirically proved. One more is that they both rely on the fact that conflict in has to be observable and real but they only see it as one part of the issue of power. In conclusion, Bachrach and Baratz theory sees power as being able to dictate and therefore keep items off the political agenda where as Lukes third dimension of power sees that observable and actual conflict is observable that but also the power elite has the ability to influence peoples attitudes to do or vote in an issue that was contrary to their interests.
In this essay I have discussed two theories of power, citing major studies into each of these different theories, citing contemporary examples from British politics.
Bibliography Bachrach, P. and M. S Baratz 1962 “Two Faces of Power”, American Political Science Review, 56: 947-52 (cited in Clegg. S. R(1989) Frameworks of Power (London, Sage)) Clegg. S. R (1989) Frameworks of Power. (London, Sage) Friedrich, C.J(1937) Constitutional Government and Democracy, (New York, Gipp) (cited in Clegg. S. R(1989) Frameworks of Power (London, Sage))
Hay, Colin (1997) “Divided by a Common Language: Political Theory and the Concept of Power”, Political Studies Association: 17:1:45-52. Heywood, Andrew (1997, 2002) Politics, 2nd edition. (New York, Palgrave) Lukes, S. (1974, 2005) Power: A radical View 2nd edition, (New York, Palgrave Macmillan) Saunders, P. (1979) Urban Politics, (Hammondsworth, Penguin).