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Power is an actor’s capacity to influence effectively the conduct of others and to shape other people’s behaviour in line to what they desire.
Power is dispositional as its influence does not have to be exercised for power to exist and power is the potential for influence to occur. Max Weber considers power as a capacity to get other to do what we want them to do, overcoming any resistance.
Jospeh Nye, an International Relations scholar, coined the terms “soft power, hard power”. Hard power consists of threats and violence whereas soft power is the idea that you can get what you want without force but incentive; the dichotomy hard vs soft power is one way of dividing power.
Robert Dahl wanted to measure power and test it by focusing on the individual’s behaviour. Before, people would measure power not by the study of behaviour but by asking people who had power however people would give rather predictable answers when asked. Our perceptions of who is powerful may not align perfectly with reality, therefore Dahl went to Connecticut and looked at concrete decisions made in three policy areas. He found that social notables weren’t even interested in these policy areas - the office managers themselves had power not the notables, and therefore he gives a pluralist account on the dispersion of power. If you can observe decision making, according to Dahl, you can observe power.
Bacharach and Baratz pointed out in their article "Two faces of Power" that interpreting and finding power in practise can be found in the decision making process but it overlooks an important aspect of power: the non-decision making. In many ways the non-decision making is much more effective than discussing actual decisions as certain topics don’t even make it on the political agenda. If non-decision making is so essential then Dahl’s method is invalid because solely focussing on decision making isn’t enough to see real power.
One can measure non-decision making by identifying "mobilization of bias" and who benefits then by identifying and exploring the dynamics of non-decision making.
There is a third dimension to power according to Steven Lukes work "Power, a radical view": preference shaping. Preference shaping is just another word for thought control and is used to shape people’s preference, especially by those who may challenge them. Propaganda plays a central role in this. It is about getting people to think in early stages in certain ways, allowing them to follow certain ideological paths - religion is a great example of this third face of power. How can you know what ones true preference is once you shape them in a regime? Well, you cannot separate opinions from social context. Whereas the first two faces of power are about exercising power directly the third is about domination, even when we are unaware of it.
Authority is the known and accepted right for an actor to dominate someone else, an actor’s claim to get someone to do something. Having lots of powers is the key to having lots of authorities.
Weber distinguishes three types of authority:
- Legal rational authority is recognized right to act based on customs or established rules associated with the state or institutional structures.
- Traditional authority is the "it is the always done" argument and strongly revolves around traditions.
- Charismatic authority rests on a person’s charisma and ability to persuade and enchant others. Political rule is about thinking that those who control our agenda have the right to authority. Over time the legitimacy of authority of rulers may decrease or increase, this is controlled though the ballot box, people can kick the authorities out in some societies.
Attempts to constrain political power:
Designing a constitution which in a way divides power into sections, allocating each one to different branches of government, is one way of constraining political power. Actors can "divide" and "rule" and can be used both to restrict power or to keep it for oneself. Hitler used this tactic: he employed two people for the same job and they ended up squabbling thus neither wanted to steal his power. the bitter sweet lesson here however is that no actor can monopolise power forever.