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Steven Lukes's Three Faces of Power

A particularly prominent treatise on power that draws upon institutionalist thinking is Steven Lukes's (2005) Power: A Radical View, initially published in 1974. Lukes defines power in terms of the realized ability of one group to affect the other in a way that is contrary to their interests. A clear distinction from Ostrom's (2005) definition of power is that, for Lukes, power exists only when it is exercised and only in situations where one of those groups possesses “power over” the other. He is also particularly attentive to multiple manifestations or “faces” of power. Lukes views these “faces” of power as three distinct processes that individuals or groups use to exercise their power over others, two of which are clearly linked to institutional processes.

The first face of power is by far the easiest to identify and study, as it relies upon the observation of overt conflict between two or more groups participating in some political environment (Lukes 2005). When decisions are ultimately made that favor one group at the expense of the other, power is said to exist. As an example, a group possessing a 50 % plus one majority in a two-party legislature using majority rule could be said to hold “power over” the other group, assuming there are differences in subjective interests. While Lukes acknowledges the general validity of this view, he also points to its inadequacy for explaining situations where power is exercised by limiting the participation of some groups. This is the second face of power, wherein groups with identifiable interests or grievances are prevented from even representing their interests in political processes by virtue of the overt and covert actions of some other group. For example, one group may exercise power over another by preventing the first group from voting, or by constructing institutional barriers that increase the costs of participation in political or administrative decisionmaking processes (Yackee and Yackee 2006; Obar and Schejter 2010), thereby producing policies that favor the subjective interests of the dominant group. Lukes also offers a third face of power centered on the manipulation of the subjective interests of a group as described below:

Is it not the most supreme and insidious exercise of power to prevent people, to whatever degree, from having grievances by shaping their perceptions, cognitions and preferences in such a way that they accept their role in the existing order of things, either because they can see or imagine no alternative to it, or because they see it as natural and unchangeable or because they value it as divinely ordained and beneficial? (2005, p. 28)

This conception may or may not be institutional, depending upon the ways in which one conceptualizes the relationship, if any, between institutions and “perceptions, cognitions, and preferences.” While the neoclassical economic model of the individual assumes that preferences are stable, recent advances from various fields provide strong evidence that preferences and perceptions are influenced by cultural experience and participation over time in particular institutional environments (Agrawal 2005; Henrich et al. 2006). Alternatively, institutions—as prescriptive, linguistic constructs—can, in some sense, themselves be considered a type of belief. According to Crawford and Ostrom (1995), a shared strategy is a linguistic statement consisting of actions to be taken by individuals defined by some attribute(s) under certain conditions. As an example, they offer a situation where an individual who initiates a call that is disconnected will call back. This simple strategy or social convention addresses a simple coordination problem where either both parties wait for the other to call, or perhaps try simultaneously and receive busy signals by generating shared expectations. Although beliefs about others' actions are certainly representative of the type of shared strategy envisioned by Crawford and Ostrom, it is less clear that the same could be said for beliefs about policies or rules that lack a social dimension.

Lukes's (2005) three faces of power provide three different conceptualizations, two of which we are able to operationalize in this study. Lukes's third face of power was not operationalized due to the difficulty of analyzing outcomes based on belief systems and an inability to distinguish between subjective and objective interests using the data stored in the IFRI database. Lukes's first face of power focuses on subjective perceptions of policy outcomes or operational rules (GS5) between two or more groups that participate in collective choice venues (GS6). This was operationalized by distinguishing between groups that participate in rule-making processes that fail to produce rules that align with their subjective interests and all other groups, with the assumption that the former lacks, or is subject to, the power of another group. The results indicate that the first face of power has little impact on the combined social-ecological outcome.

The second face of power refers to groups whose subjective interests are not met by operational rules (GS5), but who also do not participate in collective-choice processes (GS6). This is operationalized by distinguishing between groups where operational rules are perceived to be unfair and do not participate in rulemaking, and all other combinations. As opposed to the first face of power, Lukes's second face has a statistically significant and negative relationship with the combined social-ecological outcome. There is, however, an important caveat to this claim. Lukes clearly situates his definitions of power in relative terms, where one group is able to affect another in a way that is contrary to the second group's interests. This analysis assumes the existence of that other group, be it the state or another user group, ignoring the possibility that the lack of participation and dissatisfaction with rules is a result of other factors, most notably intragroup processes or a collective failure to self-organize.

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