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Faces of Power and Its Impact on Society

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Steven Lukes defines the concept of power by saying that “A exercises power over B when A affects B in a manner contrary to B’s interests. ” Lukes established his view on how power is practiced, then he described the forms of power as “three dimensional”. Power can be in a form of decision-making, agenda-shaping and exclusion, and ideological power. He probably used the word ‘dimension’ rather than ‘aspect’ to indicate that power is a set of individual processes, each has a value and direction, that work in three perpendicular dimensions independently.

Lukes’ interpretation of the first dimension was based upon Dahl’s work. Luke interpretation of power is the ability of one person to win an argument or achieve other’s compliance by observing their behavior in the making of decisions, and how far they might change their behavior after they had been subject to power exerted, in an observable conflict of interests.

Lukes’ two dimensional view of power is not only about decision making, but it is more about non-decision making. Decision-making is the selection of one option from a set of alternatives, whereas non-decision making entails preventing decisions being made, creating circumstances, or reducing the choices which can be made by shaping the agenda and exclusions, to suppressing any interest that conflicts with those of decision-makers. The first two dimensions of power are similar in the way they describe how power can be exerted to get other’s compliance, even if it is against their interest. On the other hand, the third dimension of power describes how others can be manipulated to do something against their will by changing their perception of what they want. Therefore, the third dimension is all about manipulation. It is about using means such as religion, media or ideology to control others and make them behave as the powerful wishes.

Lukes’ three dimensions of power can be clearly demonstrated in corporate power. A good example to explain the dimensions of power and to explore how power can influence human life is by demonstrating how Nestlé – the very powerful food and beverage company in the modern world – dominates one of people’s basic needs; drinking water. Urs Schnell’s documentary, Bottled Life: Nestle’s Business with Water, follows Nestlé’s practices into a number of its water extraction sites, showing the impacts on communities when Nestlé takes control of the water supply, and the company’s practice of extracting water at almost no cost and reselling it at a huge profit.

Nestlé’s corporation in Switzerland is one of the most profitable companies ever being the world’s largest food and beverage multinationals adored by investors. Nestlé currently controls more than 70 of the world’s bottled water brands which adds up to the total sales amounting to 7. 95 billion CHF in 2017. Nestlé introduced a safe health-enhancing alternative to public water supply, which is bottled water. Although it was an expensive alternative to consumers, it became a reality making people change their behavior by replacing tap water with bottled water. Today, Nestlé’s bottled water is the world’s top-selling brand of bottled water.

Nestlé’s agenda includes efforts on working with regulations or having strong political ties to regulators from one side, and creating the conditions, from the other side, to control both communal water supplies and bottled water markets. Nestlé spares no effort in exerting financial, legal and political pressure – on anyone campaigning for water ownership as a public property and human right. They are very astute in dealing with changing regulations or working within regulations to meet the goals and demands they have. According to the documentary, Shapleigh (Maine) is served by an aquifer that runs through a preserve. Nestle was granted permission through zoning and permitting regulations to place test wells on the preserve to monitor the rate of flow and quality of the water.

On the other hand, Nestlé creates dependence on bottled water – in particular where public waters supplies are close to collapse, notably in developing countries such as in Pakistan, where groundwater levels have fallen and the village fountain water is nothing more than a muddy, dirty pool. In these kinds of areas, Nestle presents their bottled Pure Life water as an alternative. They start with taking away the water from people who desperately struggle to get by every day, then they sell it back to them.

Nestlé promotes itself as a benefactor – by donation and PR campaigns at the local level. They also attempt to suppress local opposition to their operations with an army of powerful PR consultants, lawyers and lobbyists; while at the same time manipulating public opinion into believing that improvements in production and distribution are having a sustainable effect. Nestle, for example, spoke for social responsibility when it was helping the UN in Eastern Ethiopia, by supplying a UN camp with drinking water as one of the humanitarian projects which the company finances as part of it corporate social responsibility. The manipulation was also evident when Nestle made the people of Kingfield (Maine) believe that building a new factory which uses million liters of pumped clean water every year is a positive experience. They believed that this might mean an economic uplift for the village since more people will be employed. In addition to this, Nestlé is paying taxes which helps support several areas of the community, even gaining the mayor’s support.

It is crucial to figure out how power has a huge force and ability to produce influence on every aspect of human life and society. Lukes’ theory helps us to enhance our understanding of policy making, explaining why, despite the destruction that it has caused as well as the disregard for humanity, it has survived and still thrives.

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