Essentially Contested Concept

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    Power is often described as an essentially contested concept. That term was first introduced into political theory in 1958 by William Gallie, who applies it to various subject-terms including power. In some hands, the use of the idea of an essentially contested concept is taken to entail that the meaning of words such as power or interests has not been universally agreed. The terms have been discussed for many years, so the lack of consensus suggests that there will never be any agreement. However, there are many scientific terms about which there has been much debate and whose meaning in standard definitions has altered over the years. In physics, the concept of atoms has changed over time, and the central concept of gene in evolutionary theory has several meanings that are much debated. However, physicists and evolutionary biologists do not normally consider their concepts to be essentially contested. Rather, essentially contested concepts are not merely those over which there happens to be no agreement over a long time, but those that because of their central role in normative theory can never achieve a universally agreed definition. The claim that power has an ineradicably normative nature leads many to suggest that there can never be agreement over its meaning.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationEncyclopedia of Power
    EditorsKeith Dowding
    Place of PublicationThousand Oaks, California
    PublisherSage Publications Inc
    ISBN (Print)9781412927482
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


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