Power (philosophy)

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Power is a measure of an entity's ability to control its environment, including the behavior of other entities. The term authority is often used for power, perceived as legitimate by the social structure. Power can be seen as evil or unjust, but the exercise of power is accepted as endemic to humans as social beings. In the corporate environment, power is often expressed as upward or downward. With downward power, a company's superior influences subordinates. When a company exerts upward power, it is the subordinates who influence the decisions of the leader (Greiner & Schein, 1988). Often, the study of power in a society is referred to as politics.

The use of power need not involve coercion (force or the threat of force). At one extreme, it more closely resembles what everyday English-speakers call "influence", although some authors make a distinction between power and influence – the means by which power is used (Handy, C. 1993 Understanding Organisations).

Much of the recent sociological debate on power revolves around the issue of the enabling nature of power. A comprehensive account of power can be found in Steven Lukes Power: A Radical View where he discusses the three dimensions of power. Thus, power can be seen as various forms of constraint on human action, but also as that which makes action possible, although in a limited scope. Much of this debate is related to the works of the French philosopher Michel Foucault (1926–1984), who, following the Italian political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527), sees power as "a complex strategic situation in a given society social setting". Being deeply structural, his concept involves both constraint and enablement. For a purely enabling (and voluntaristic) concept of power see the works of Anthony Giddens.

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