msb ~095 Three faces of power

Three faces of power 

Lukes: Three faces of power
Lukes: Three faces of power

As previous posts have suggested, I like concise insights into how we work. Though they risk oversimplifying complexity, they get us on the road to exploring it. A fourfold matrix of knowns and unknowns; three types of expertise; ‘four As’ for nurturing change … handy rules of thumb. Another is the three ‘faces’ of power.

This approach to the ability to get others to do what they wouldn’t otherwise choose was developed by Steven Lukes in the 1970s, countering complacency over how democracies work. The two most obvious faces of power — which established theories saw as sufficient to explain ‘free’ societies — were: first, the open power to actually make decisions; second, the shadier power to set the agendas for those decisions. We elect and eject (some) decision makers; but who determines what exactly is up for decision? This second face is effectively a power to control non-decisions.

Lukes’ radical take on power was its third, insidious face: power to manipulate desires and consciousness. This determines not just what gets onto the agenda, but how agendas are even imagined: the environment that shapes the appetite for change and non-change, and brings people to ‘choose’ things that might be against their own interests.

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