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Protean Power
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Book description

Mainstream international relations continues to assume that the world is governed by calculable risk based on estimates of power, despite repeatedly being surprised by unexpected change. This ground breaking work departs from existing definitions of power that focus on the actors' evolving ability to exercise control in situations of calculable risk. It introduces the concept of 'protean power', which focuses on the actors' agility as they adapt to situations of uncertainty. Protean Power uses twelve real world case studies to examine how the dynamics of protean and control power can be tracked in the relations among different state and non-state actors, operating in diverse sites, stretching from local to global, in both times of relative normalcy and moments of crisis. Katzenstein and Seybert argue for a new approach to international relations, where the inclusion of protean power in our analytical models helps in accounting for unforeseen changes in world politics.


'Protean Power is the most important statement on power in international relations in over a decade. Ambitious, creative, and analytical, it sets out a new agenda for imagining how power operates in world politics. The authors make a compelling case that power can be divided between protean and control. Control power dominates much thinking in international relations, with the presumption that one actor forces another to do something against its will. Protean power highlights the improvisational and creative responses to conditions of uncertainty. This distinction directs attention to the uncertainties and social capacities that provide a stage for actors to creatively engage the world and in ways that have the unintended effects of transforming it; the possibility of agency for even the weakest actors; the imperative to distinguish more fully between ‘power to’ and ‘power over’; how, when, and why control power is sandwiched by protean power; and how protean power itself can scramble existing social relations and usurp control power. A masterful volume that not only hits the ‘reset’ on discussions of power in international relations theory, but also helps us understand the bewildering and unanticipated changes that have occurred over the last half-century.'

Michael Barnett - George Washington University, Washington DC

‘In a world where uncertainty permeates the most important policy and theoretical questions, this book is indispensable. The authors take us to the heart of ‘protean' power. Decisions based on planning for risk differ from decisions based on managing uncertainty. If you've not thought about the difference, this book will help you through that process. It has theory and cases. A vital read for everyone.'

Peter Gourevitch - University of California, San Diego

‘Katzenstein and Seybert argue convincingly that power should not be viewed only in terms of control under conditions of risk. World politics is also a realm of uncertainty, in which ‘agile innovation' generates important effects. Protean Power is an important contribution to international relations theory.'

Robert O. Keohane - Professor Emeritus, Princeton University, New Jersey

‘This important book expands not only our theories of power, but also our understanding of America's future in the world.'

Joseph S. Nye - Harvard University, Massachusetts

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