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Undergraduate Power Essay Sample

Published by at April 26th, 2023 , Revised On March 19, 2024

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Steven Lukes’s Contribution to the Analysis of Power and its Critique by Colin Hay


The concept of power is the most ubiquitous and essential idea in political analysis. It has been the topic of long and lively discussion. This essay critically evaluates the radical conception of power developed by Steven Lukes. The study is foregrounded on the three-dimensional approach to power, highlighted by Steven Lukes (1974) and investigates the critique of Colin Hay (1997) by conflating the identification of power relations. Additionally, the author assesses the perspective of Lukes (1974) and Hay (1997) while also determining the most effective standpoint about power among both.


The division of the mainstream political scientists in history is based on a common language of power. In political and social theory, power is the fundamental and most significant organizing concept. Steven Lukes (1974) has the most dominant and principal contribution in the history of social and political theory, emphasizing advocating the “three-dimensional approach” to power. The generic definition of power in a three-dimensional context is very comprehensive and satisfactory;

“I have defined power by saying that A exercises power over B when A Affects B in a manner contrary to B’s interests.”

(Steven Lukes, 1974)

The three-dimensional concept of power, as Lukes’s definitions reveal, focuses specifically on the influence or power of a person on the other person/s. Lukes was critical of people who wished to examine anyone else’s ability to accomplish or achieve a goal rather than their power to do it or accomplish a goal in his book. This three-dimensional theory by Steven Lukes (2004) explores a person’s feeling of freedom or autonomy about existing power structures. The three-dimensional power concept refers to an organized set or way in which the strong modify the powerless in such a way that they act as the powerful desire — without force or violent restraint — for example, by building a ubiquitous doctrine or cognitive dissonance system. The concept of power is referred to as domination in the three-dimensional analysis of power by Lukes, and dominance can take the form of blatant coercion. Still, it can also take the form of unconscious processes. Through this concept of power, Lukes (2004) structured a single account framework for;

  1. The struggles, practices and strategies for characterizing the process of decision-making.
  2. The acts and negligence on the part that goes into putting together a decision-making agenda.
  3. Within the development of projected power and political choices, acts and lack of actions are similarly intertwined.

According to Plaw (2007), domination is the subtlest and most significant type of power for Lukes. His third dimension arises not just when dominance exists but also when the controlled accept their dominance. Acquiescence may be defined in two ways: in the thick meaning, when individuals actively embrace the oppressive ideals, and in the slender sense, where they can be simply resigned to them.

Lukes feels compelled to recognize and criticize beliefs encouraging oppressed individuals to accept and enjoy their oppression. However, all social connections are viewed through the same mechanical lens; everybody (submissive and dominant alike) is subjected to the same concept of power. Besides, due to the force of structural relations, everyone is held to the same standard of morality. Similarly, Dowding (2006) argued that only the people who are subjected to dominance and consent to that domination reside in Lukes’s three-dimensions of power.

In my opinion, a key factor for Lukes’ book (Power: A radical view) succeeded because its small length undoubtedly made it ideal for students to suggest. Second factor is, it was expressed in an admirably straightforward manner. Another possibility is that he uses the charming marketing tactic of referring to his favored analysis as ‘three-dimensional,’ indicating that it must inevitably finish the job started by his contemporaries, who all used less dimensions (Dahl, 1957; Bachrach & Baratz, 1962). In my opinion, at-least six dimensions of the power are implied in the Lukes’ work based on the methodological approach. Through the conflicting criteria, we can identify those characteristics for locating the practice and exercise of power in the premise.

On the contrary, Hay (1997) argued that Lukes forcedly drew the difference between real or actual interest at one side with perceived and subjective interests on the other. Additionally, Hay (1997) claims that, the three-dimensional concept of power has forced the distinction between the objective and subjective goals, whilst making the unscientific and value-laden identification of the power’s three dimensions. Hay (1997) suggested that the two-dimensional approach of Lukes unearths the spectra of false awareness, which many felt had been banished from current social and political philosophy. Hay (1997) counters Luke’s concept of power by claiming that the circumstance of real interests is unachievable because it requires direct understanding, which is impossible in the physical world. He said that,

“there is nothing objective about the process by which one determines one’s genuine interests, because one’s objective interests are one’s perceived interests under the conditions of complete information.”

Hay (1997).

In fact, Lukes’ formulation has flaws because he fails to clearly distinguish between empirical concerns about the identification of power in political and social situations and moral ones about evaluating that power’s allocation and use. Hay (1997) highlights the concept of power as a zero sum or unproductive which some only gain to the extent where others suffer. Hay (1997) thus reformulated the power’s concept in contrast to Lukes outlining two key characteristics of the power;

“1) indirect or context-shaping, in which one actor creates or redefines the context in which another actor’s actions take place; and 2) direct or conduct-shaping, in which one actor induces another actor to do something”

Hay (1997).

Hay (1997) believes that, the society or surrounding, the characters in our life, or the approach we were raised, including the media, impact or ‘shape’ our perceived interests. Because we cannot establish exactly what our true interests are, we mistook our apparent values for our true interests. On the contrary, the real interests are “what [someone] might desire and choose if they had the option.” According to Doyle (1998), Hay essentially replaces a technical interest with a common desire as the basic evaluation ground for determining balance of power. As a result, Hay is vulnerable to the same critique he levelled at Lukes.

However, in my opinion, this is an obvious and apparent critique, because this is hard to show and evaluate the distinction amongst real and objective interests, assuming there is one. It is unreasonable to believe that someone can reside in a state of absolute understanding, since it would imply knowing all there is to think about the world. +Additionally, the notion is that individuals live in a state of ‘false awareness.’ This is a bold statement since it implies that humans are unqualified to make reasonable decisions for themselves. This view point may be offensive to the people because they interpret Lukes’ words to suggest that they are “dumb” for not being able to discern their real values.

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The critique of Hay (1997) towards the conception of three-dimensional power suggests that Lukes is dismissive of those who are just embracing a set of principles that Lukes does not share. Doyle (1998) also argued against the critique of Hay revealing that the reformulation of power by Hay removes the normative question from power’s analysis. Additionally, the radical power conception from Lukes within the defined terms and original context is very accurate and realistic. However, in particular, Lukes appears to be more concerned with providing a semantic study of the concept “power” than with a sociological explanation of the temporal and systematic existence of the power.


Lukes’s concept of power within the three-dimensional context is very effective and dominates in the social and political field. However, the central meaning of power in terms of compliance of securing domination over the people, by Lukes exaggerates the claim. Hay (1997) on the other hand, also criticized the conception of power by Lukes as the subjective or real interests/ goals of a person cannot be identified as restricted by the science. Hay assumes that values underpin the identification of power interactions that there is no independent foundation from which to find the values inside those ties. I think the difficulty with Lukes’ technique is that it is insufficiently developed, not because it integrates values.


Bachrach, P., & Baratz, M. S. (1962). Two faces of power1. American political science review56(4), 947-952.

Dahl, R. A. (1957). The concept of power. Behavioral science2(3), 201-215.

Dowding, K. (2006). Three-dimensional power: A discussion of Steven Lukes’ Power: A radical view. Political studies review4(2), 136-145.

Doyle, J. (1998). Power and contentment. Politics18(1), 49-56.

Lukes, S. (1974). 1974 Power: a radical view. London: Macmillan.

Lukes, S. (2004). Power: A radical view. Macmillan International Higher Education.

Plaw, A. (2007). Lukes’s Three-Dimensional Model of Power Redux: Is it Still Compelling?. Social theory and practice33(3), 489-500.

Frequently Asked Questions

Steven Lukes is a British sociologist known for his work on power and authority. He developed the three-dimensional model of power and contributed to social theory.

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