Elements of a Definition
Power continues to be a difficult subject to surround. Disciplinary foci have helped, but have left about as much confusion as they have added insight into the subject. Recent analytical studies, while relatively few, have helped to clarify elements of power, its sources, and constituent parts. This work has added needed insights into specific dimensions of power, but has not delimited the central essence of power. Indeed, most work on power adds to the ambiguity rather than diminishes it.
Any summary of research directions in operational uses of power points up this variety and breadth. For example, writers have defined power variously as a potential for social action and as a predictor and conditioner of behavior. They have described power as an ethical element of freedom, as a tool for analysis of influence, and as a basis of violence. Some see power as a possession in a zero-sum game. Others see it as a shared (or sharable) commodity, as a resource we can monopolize. And others view it as a general capacity of personality. All of these perspectives help somewhat in delimiting power. Individually, they elaborate salient dimensions of this complex social phenomenon. Together, however, they garble succinct distinctions and create confusion. Many specific power definitions overlap or even contradict each other.
Notwithstanding this confusion, power is attractive--if illusive. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and other philosophers have dealt with this subject. And, since Machiavelli, power theory has caused concern and some degree of discomfort for the serious student and for the generalists in human behavior. The essential nature of power has eluded us. Its dimensions are troublesome. Its meaning in practice enigmatic. Its theory is inconclusive and imprecise. Its ethical status