We examine here differing concepts of power presented by sociologists and political scientists in recent accounts of political processes. Consequently we shall be less concerned with terminological definitions of power and associated concepts, such as authority, influence, force, coercion, etc., than with exploring the different philosophies or values — ways of seeing the world — that underpin various approaches for understanding political decision making. As we shall see, this is no easy task for social scientists are considerably at odds as to how to go about assessing power. Many share Steven Lukes’s view (1974) that the concept of power itself is an ‘essentially contested concept’ which rules out a universally accepted agreement because different conceptions of power are tied to quite fundamental differences of values. Nonetheless it is possible to identify a number of major approaches for studying power which elucidate the primary methodological issues involved.
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