Power is a concept that has been historically quite difficult to define. The reason for this is that power is a notion that is very complex. Power is something that can both define and crush political regimes all over the globe. Many scholars have tried to define power and have been unsuccessful. While Dahl has one of the best definitions of power available on the market, there is a superior definition that was ascertained by John Gaventa. John Gaventa is a well established political scholar in the field and has a great deal of clout due to his book called “Power and Powerlessness: Quiescence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Valley.” Within his book, John Gaventa establishes three effective demonstrations of power. The first being that power is defined as A through superior resources, (Gaventa, John). The second being that the construction of barriers against the participation of B, (Gaventa, John). The third and final dimension pertains to the influencing or shaping of consciousness of B about inequalities, (Gaventa, John). Gaventa’s three-tier definition of power illuminates the factors that Dahl seemed to neglect in his analysis. Even though Gaventa used a single community in the Appalachian valley to demonstrate his viewpoints, Gaventa’s description remains from a more contemporary perspective that can be strongly added to current scenarios. An example of this can be seen with Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy, that has been ruled by a dynasty for ages, (“How ‘Smart’ is Saudi Arabia’s Power?”). Each and every decision is made by the ruling family and go unchallenged by the general public, (“How ‘Smart’ is Saudi Arabia’s Power?”). It is much more stimulating to utilize Gaventa’s definition of power in this example rather than Dahl’s in this instance even though Dahl’s seems to be natural fitting choice. The prevalence of the ruling family has been established over the centuries due to their immense wealth and extravagant resources. Additionally, the Saudi Arabian government does not allow any constituents from having any involvement in government decision, (“How ‘Smart’ is Saudi Arabia’s Power?”). Lastly, over time, the cultural and social landscape of the Saudi Arabian culture has greatly influenced and molded the awareness of the citizens that the actual inequalities present. Due to this, there are never any major rebellions and the people of Saudi Arabia embrace their corresponding way of life since it has been established for such an extended period of time.
Pertaining to Gaventa’s first tier of power that A has power through the superior resources, the Saudi Arabian government absolutely satisfies this. The reason for this is that the Saudi Arabian government has an infinite amount of resources due to the country’s oil profits, (“How ‘Smart’ is Saudi Arabia’s Power?”). What makes the Saudi Arabian government quite powerful is that they exclude those resources from the average citizen and put themselves on another tier of control than the average citizen. This greatly fits in with Gaventa’s first tier of power because the tier itself refers to exclusion based on having more wealth. For this reason, the Saudi Arabian government can control their citizens since they just have such infinite resources.
Referring to Gaventa’s second tier of power that consists of the construction of barriers that limits B’s ability to participate, the Saudi Arabian government can also be applied to this theory. The Saudi Arabian government does not allow the common citizen to participate in any form of politics, (“How ‘Smart’ is Saudi Arabia’s Power?”). This is a beautiful example of Gaventa’s second tier of power because the Saudi Arabian government is excluding B from being able to participate in politics. This is why the Saudi Arabian government has remained in power for so many centuries because the royal family has such control over the government and the common citizen is unable to change the status quo through political activism, (“How ‘Smart’ is Saudi Arabia’s Power?”). Also, it is likely that the Saudi royal family will continue to rule for many more centuries because there is no real avenue to challenge their authority without being “dealt with” at their discretion, which many common citizens greatly fear. One aspect that the Saudi Arabian government does do is to provide their citizens with a great deal of riches in effective government social programs. An example of this can be seen in the way that any Saudi citizen can have their college tuition paid for in full both in Saudi Arabia and abroad. This provision even applies to expensive universities in the United States and the United Kingdom. Programs such as this are a great way for the government to keep their second tier of power as laid out by Gaventa because the citizens essentially have a free education and pursue many different paths that will lead them to more wealth. What is important to understand about Saudi Arabia is that there is just so much money everywhere, that the citizens have opportunities that would not normally be shared by a government who was struggling. This is applied to Gaventa’s second tier and explains how the Saudi Arabian government perpetuates their absolute power and authority over their common citizens.
Referring to Gaventa’s third tier of power that discusses the influences or shaping of B to discuss inequalities that may be presented in the power tier structure. Saudi Arabia also is a great example of Gaventa’s third and final tier. The reason for this is that the Saudi royal family has indeed been in power for centuries. What has transpired as a result of that power is an established way of life that is not challenged because of fear of the government, but it is not challenged due to the strong faith of the common citizen. One factor that makes Saudi Arabia truly unique when referring to power is the Muslim element of their culture, (“How ‘Smart’ is Saudi Arabia’s Power?”). This is important to understand because the Muslim element teaches the society how to observe their laws and practice justice. The Saudi royal family also observes these laws because they have been the tradition or norm for ages and ages. Muslim dictates laws that are sacred within Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia actually has some of the most important cultural and sacred religious shrines for the Muslim faith. What ended up happening is that given the Saudi Arabian government’s decision to keep the nation greatly closed off from the rest of the world, the Muslim faith ended up spreading and was observed in a more orthodox way than in other parts of the Middle East and the Muslim world overall, (“How ‘Smart’ is Saudi Arabia’s Power?”). This is important in trying to explain why Saudi Arabia as a nation does not challenge their system. The common citizen of Saudi Arabia actually has a great deal of respect for their nation, system, and religion that is practiced daily. Gaventa’s third tier shows the social molding and custom that has transpired in Saudi Arabia quite nicely; however, if Muslim worship were not an element in this analysis, it is difficult to ascertain whether the Saudi Arabian government would still have the absolute power that they possess today.
In sum, Gaventa made a very effective argument of his three tiers of power analysis. The reason for this is that Gaventa highlighted the exclusionary element necessary to power in that power takes away a resource from another and gives it to the individual in power. Power also is culturally adapted over many years after it has been taken from the second person. In highlighting these exclusionary elements of power, Gaventa does a sensational job illustrating his thought process to his reader and gives them a clear understanding of what power actually is and how it is structured.
Gaventa, John. “Power and Powerlessness: Quiescence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Valley.” 2016. Web. 17 April 2016.
“How ‘Smart’ is Saudi Arabia’s Power?” USC Annenberg. 2015. Web. 17 April 2016.