Wednesday, July 11, 2007

3 Dimensions of Power

How was power exercised, if not by a uniform system of laws applied universally? Gaventa identified three aspects of power and its exercise.

a. The First Dimension of Power: Direct Conflict
The first aspect is the most conventional—that of observable conflict. Whether by negotiation, legal and governmental proceedings, or simple force, this aspect involves the direct resolution of issues in controversy. When this dimension is in play, all parties involved are aware of the conflict. They have adopted conscious strategies, and are active in seeking their goals. Everything is in the open.

b. The Second Dimension of Power: The Prevention of Conflict

The second dimension or exercise of power involves the prevention of conflict. This ‘mobilization of bias’ can take many forms—intimidation, deterrence, popular or cultural attitudes, legal or procedural rules. The powerful do not utilize this mechanism to defeat challenges. Rather, it is the "means by which demands for change in the existing allocation of benefits and privileges in the community can be suffocated before they are voiced . . ." Thus, the resistance or challenge that one would expect in the face of great disparities in social status fail to materialize not because of consent to the current conditions but rather because of a conscious calculation of the utility of such measures. Individuals may conclude there is no chance of prevailing, or that the costs of mounting a challenge outweigh the likely benefits. Or, there may simply be no avenue within the current system by which individuals can offer resistance

c. The Third Dimension of Power: Manipulation of Consciousness

The third aspect involves not the actions but the consciousness of the powerless. Whereas following the exercise of the second aspect the less fortunate of society recognize resistance as an option but decline to exercise it, the exercise of the third aspect of power prevents the less fortunate from recognizing that resistance is an option. This third dimension can take several forms. The simplest form is that which creates a sense of powerlessness amongst the less fortunate. "There’s nothing I can do about it" becomes the maxim by which individuals accept their lot in life. Another form is the suppression of class or political consciousness through the inhibition of participation in the public sphere, via the second aspect or other manifestations of the third aspect of power. According to both democratic theorists and social psychology studies , citizens receive their political learning at least partly through active participation. If this participation is inhibited, so is the information that flows from it. If members of an aggrieved group or class such as coal miners are not aware of the full range of options before them, they cannot make a decision regarding their exercise. A final element of this psychological aspect is the adaptation by the ruled of the ideologies and belief systems of the rulers. Those who feel powerless may become susceptible to myths orcideologies that cause them to see their interests as aligning with those of the powerful. Churches, schools, and the media are some of the more familiar channels by which the powerful may exercise this influence.

Three themes emerge from Gaventa’s study of this Appalachian valley. First, it becomes clear that powerlessness is more than the mere absence of power. Instead, it is a very real condition, an observable social fact that can play an extremely important role. Secondly, what is most important is not what happens, but what does not happen. In this case, why people do not demand change or rebel tells us more than any actions taken. Finally, all three dimensions of power complement and to varying degrees depend on one another. For example, the ability of the powerful to repeatedly defeat those "below" them can lead to a deterrent effect manifested in the second dimension or a sense of powerlessness in the third dimension.



Melanie Guion said...

Best explanation of the 3 dimensions of power that I've read. Thank you!

Melanie Guion said...
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