Steven Lukes

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Steven Michael Lukes
Steven Lukes.jpg
Steven Lukes in İstanbul, 2014.
Born 1941
Alma mater Oxford University

Steven Michael Lukes FBA (born 1941) is a political and social theorist. Currently he is a professor of politics and sociology at New York University. He was formerly a professor at the University of Siena, the European University Institute (Florence) and the London School of Economics. Lukes tutored writer and journalist Christopher Hitchens while he studied at Oxford.

Life and career[edit]

Lukes attended the Royal Grammar School in Newcastle upon Tyne,[1] completing his studies there in 1958. Lukes completed his BA in 1962 at Balliol College, Oxford. He worked as a research fellow at Nuffield College and as a lecturer in politics at Worcester College and completed his MA in 1967. In 1968, he completed his PhD on the work of Émile Durkheim. From 1966 to 1987 he was fellow and tutor in politics at Balliol College. He is a Fellow of the British Academy (FBA) and a visiting professor at the University of Paris, New York University, University of California, San Diego, and Hebrew University.

From 1974 to 1983 he was President of the Committee for the History of Sociology of the International Sociological Association.

He was the co-director of the European Forum on Citizenship at the European University Institute from 1995 to 1996.

In April 2006, Lukes married the political commentator and author Katha Pollitt; this being his third marriage. Lukes was previously a widower.[2] He has three children from his previous marriage to the English barrister Nina Stanger: freelance journalist Daniel (born 1977), musician Michael (born 1979) and NYU professor Alexandra (born 1981).

Academic interests[edit]

His main interests are political and social theory, the sociology of Durkheim and his followers, individualism, rationality, the category of the person, Marxism and ethics, sociology of morality and new forms of liberalism, varieties of conceptions of power, the notion of the "good society", rationality and relativism, moral conflict and politics.

Lukes's most famous academic theory is that of the "three faces of power". This theory claims that governments control people in three ways: through decision-making power, non decision-making power and ideological power. Decision-making power is the most public of the three faces, and is the manner in which governments want to be seen: the power of governments to make policy decisions after widespread consultation with opposition parties and the wider public. Non decision-making power is the power that governments have to control the agenda in debates and make certain issues (such as the possible merits of Communism in the United States) unacceptable for discussion in moderate public forums. The third and most important face of power is ideological power, which is the power to influence people's wishes and thoughts, even making them want things opposed to their own self-interest (such as women supporting a patriarchal society).

He is a member of the editorial board of the European Journal of Sociology and directs a research project on what is left of the socialist idea in Western and Eastern Europe.

The three dimensions of power[edit]

The three views of Power previously mentioned are discussed by Lukes in his book, Power: A Radical View. The idea is that the effectiveness and level of power for a given group or individual can be measured by considering certain criteria. The focuses of these views are discussed at length in Lukes' work, and he offers the Third Dimension as his own view of the shortcomings of the other views previously postulated by others, as well as being a more appropriate way to assess power.

The one-dimensional view of power focuses only on behaviour in decision making, specifically on key issues and essentially only in blatantly observable situations. These often take the form of subjective interests: policy preferences demonstrated through political action.[3]

The two-dimensional view of power qualifies the First Dimension's critique of behaviour and focuses on decision-making and nondecision-making. It also looks at current and potential issues and expands the focus on observable conflict to those types that might be observed overtly or covertly. But the Two Dimensional View still focuses on subjective interests, though those seen as policy preferences or even grievances.[4]

The three-dimensional view of power, offered by Lukes in his work, is a "thoroughgoing critique" of the behavioural focus.[5] As in the Two Dimensional View, both current issues and potential issues are considered but Lukes expands the critique to include latent conflicts as well as those that might be observable. Furthermore, Lukes illustrates that a full critique of power should include both subjective interests and those "real" interests that might be held by those excluded by the political process.[6]

Selected works[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ The New York Times: Katha Pollitt and Steven Lukes
  3. ^ Lukes, Steven. Power: A Radical View. London: Macmillan Press, 1974. p. 15.
  4. ^ Lukes, Steven. Power: A Radical View. London: Macmillan Press, 1974. p. 20.
  5. ^ Lukes, Steven. Power: A Radical View. London: Macmillan Press, 1974. p. 24.
  6. ^ Lukes, Steven. Power: A Radical View. London: Macmillan Press, 1974. p. 25.

External links[edit]