The political settlements approach emerged out of a critique of new institutional economics developed by Mushtaq Khan in the 1990s. Since then, the political settlements approach has proliferated in donor programming and academic scholarship on African countries. This has led to some confusion about its core conceptual and methodological features. This Research Note starts by setting out our understanding of political settlements and provides an overview of existing political settlements literature on African countries. The note then explores how the key concept of ‘holding power’ has been employed in varied ways in the political settlements literature, which in turn has led to various methodologies to study power. The note discusses a number of these methodologies, including studying political ruptures as a window into analyzing the distribution of power in African countries, and emphasizes the importance of studying economic structure, ideology, violence rights and rents as sources of holding power. The overall contribution of the note is to illustrate the varied strategies used in studying political settlements and to place them in conversation with one another.