Steven Lukes’ book Power: A Radical View is considered a classic in the study of power. In the book Lukes represents the three dimensions of power. An excerpt of Lukes’ book is included in Mark Haugaard’s Power – A Reader (Manchester University Press 2006). It also includes this conceptual map by Lukes:
Based on this terminology the following model emerged. If it seems messy and complicated, that’s because it is. That’s life.
Central in the model is the Foucauldian understanding: “Power is knowledge”. It is information that flows in the society and forms the basis of power.
Examples of this information are:
- “You will get grounded for two weeks for what you did.” (force)
- “Committing tax fraud can get you into prison for five years.” (coercion: threat)
- “I have trouble understanding people who will do anything to become successful. What is wrong with those people?” (manipulation)
- “You’re doing a great job! Continue what you are doing, and we will reward you.” (encouragement, inducement)
- “Wouldn’t you come with us? It will be really fun there!” (persuasion)
Information becomes knowledge when it is integrated into the individual consciousness. Then it transforms into “Knowledge is power” – into capacity to act, or more specifically, to manipulate, deny, criticize, encourage and persuade.
What is essential is that we don’t speak of any “true” interests; interests “are what they are” – the individual “thinks whatever he thinks” about what is good and desirable for him -, and the interests affect individual actions together with the identity and goals of Self. However, the new information that is received from the environment constantly transforms the individual consciousness which also changes interests (“That’s not what I’m interested in.”), goals (“That’s not what I’m after.”) and identity (“That’s not what I’m like.”). Again, all these “are what they are”: subjective phenomena of the consciousness. Even trying to create objective descriptions of them through interviews or questionnaires creates a situation where the individual starts reflecting and reconciling, which in turn transforms the consciousness to a different state. Nor are such descriptions able to reflect the dynamism the consciousness actually has during the process of life.
Now the antiquated debate about “false consciousness” can be put to rest; consciousness is always true from the perspective of the subject. Instead we should talk about cognitive dissonance. It occurs when the individual feels that his identity, knowledge, beliefs, goals or actions are inconsistent with each other. This dissonance is constantly produced by new information flowing as power and influence, and its transformation into knowledge. It makes individuals to constantly adjust their behavior to reduce the dissonance.
It is then to be concluded that the bodily feelings emerging in the state of dissonance and their cultural and contextual interpretation as emotions (as surprise, curiosity, dread, guilt, anger, and embarrassment for something) are actually the mechanics of power in the society. They make individuals and organizations to adapt constantly. As we are pushed forward by the feeling of inconsistency, we also form new structures: explanations, beliefs and organizations.
The question arises: If power is knowledge and we’re all just surrounded by these discourses that each have their own rules and truths, what happens to morality?
The answer: there cannot be absolute morality. There is no basis for saying that any act that we typically think of as immoral is in fact immoral. Note the words: typically think of. Our thoughts of “typical thinking” spring from the discourses that surround us and from the social systems of which we are part.
Why do we think there needs to be absolute morality?
And there we go, reflecting the discourses, social systems and systems of truth and belief. For what?
To reduce cognitive dissonance.