Four dimensions of power

What characterizes the three-dimensional view of power is that these dimensions, as Lukes (1974) conceived them, are dimensions of the same essentially contested concept – the underlying notion of power as A getting B to do something that they would not otherwise do. Lukes did not seek to synthesize disparate conceptions of power that did not inhere in their essential contestation but sought to advance the case that the three dimensions described different layers of the same concept. There have been attempts to extend the three dimensions further.

According to Hardy and Leiba-O’Sullivan (1998), a fourth dimension of power exists that goes beyond Lukes’ third dimension. They call this the postmodernist dimension of power and claim to find this fourth dimension in Foucault. Foucault, they suggest, conceptualizes power as a network of relations and discourses, which capture advantaged and disadvantaged alike. The intentions which actors have concerning outcomes do not necessarily produce the desired outcomes; instead, it seems to be implied that it is the discourse which produces effects. According to this view, as they argue it, all actors are subjected to a prevailing web of power relations, a network which resides in every perception, judgment and act, and from which the prospects of escape are limited for both dominant and subordinate groups.

Looked at through the model of a dimensional analysis, in their terms, power may be exercised through the mobilization of scarce, critical resources as the first dimen- sion; through the control of decision-making processes as the second dimension; and, at a deeper third-dimensional level, through managing the meanings that shape others’ lives. Deeper still, they suggest, is the fourth dimension, where power is embedded in the very fabric of the system; here power is conceptualized as constraining how we see, what we see, and how we think, in ways that limit our capacity for resistance. They see power as being embedded in the system, which defines how and what we see, and how we think (1998: 460). According to this view, postmodernism handles power as a network of relations and discourses. The subject is socially produced by the system of power that surrounds it, and power is no longer a manipulative, deterministic resource under the control of autonomous, sovereign actors because all actors are subjected to ‘disciplinary power’ (1998: 458–60).

Hardy and Leiba-O’Sullivan’s (1998) superstructuralism hardly does justice to the complexity and sophistication of Foucault’s thought, any more than it does to the reality of power. It seems to offer little more than a further version of the third dimension as a total hegemon. In this view, Foucault is seen to suggest that the subject is socially produced by the system of power which surrounds it and is a socially constituted, socially recognized, category of analysis, one with multiple and fragmented identities rather than the one suppressed identity of a real interest that is unexercised, unknown and unrealized. Thus, from this perspective the subject is not a ‘given’ but is produced by power and knowledge. However, the register of dimensions is still in a position of analytic dominance here. What we have, by definition, is a further development of the ‘radical’ third dimension, a dimension in which the discourse of real interests is already inscribed. Against this stress on interests, essential to the discourse of dimensions, were we to read Foucault more broadly than as a theorist of surveillance we would appreciate that identity as it is constituted, construed, and performed in organizations will be multiple and contradictory; it will be not so much lodged in some remote analytic concept of interests, real or not, but much more the stuff of idle chatter, speculation, gossip, personal desires, the judgments and (dis)affections of significant and imaginary others, as well as formal organizational imperatives and accountabilities. In short, when we are at work and working, analytic notions of interest have little more purchase than do generalized theories of discourse.

In this ‘four-dimensional’ view, the diagram of power in Figure 7.8 suggests that the three dimensions are surrounded by a fourth dimension shaping subjects’ subjectivities. The gray shade represents the pervasive systemic power, constituting the subjectivity of the actors in each of the other dimensions. It is, as suggested, superstructuralism of the highest order. Seeing Foucault in relation to an interest- based view of power is analytically inchoate. The notion of real interests that are not realized is entirely alien to his analysis. To argue that identity and interests are related within the framework of a dimensional view, and that the identity shaping mechanisms are a fourth dimension, can only mean that this fourth dimension somehow shapes the identities of the other dimensions. To see the ways that people act, what they think are significant issues and decisions and what are not, how their sense of their interests is shaped, against some privileged conception of what these interests really should be, is to conceive of the person as a cipher, as a cultural dope, a thing not free to choose, and the analyst as an oracle.

Following Lukes (1986: 4–5), we can argue that variations of different power views are too many and what unites these variations is too thin and formal to provide a generally satisfying definition that we could apply to all cases. Recall that for Lukes it was not all conceptions of power that were essentially contested but a particularly influential causal conception – which Clegg (1989) tracks back to Hobbes (1651). Foucault does not draw from the essentially Hobbesian conception of causal power that shapes Lukes’ account. As has been argued elsewhere (Clegg 1989), Foucault’s classical auspices owe much more to Machiavelli than to Hobbes. There is no elec- tive affinity between this conception of power and that purloined from Foucault and ‘synthesized’ into the fourth dimension. Ideas have distinct provenances and to simply blend clashing principles of composition, in an ad hoc manner, especially where there are contradictory political, ontological, epistemological and moral presuppositions, may result in a mixture that is somewhat indiscriminate. It should be noted that other approaches have adopted a similar synthetic mode – notably Hardy (1996), Fulop and Linstead (1999) and Digesser (1992).

Figure 7.8 The four dimensions of power

Source: Clegg Stewart, Courpasson David, Phillips Nelson X. (2006), Power and Organizations, SAGE Publications Ltd; 1st edition.

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