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Structural power and political science in the post-crisis era


This essay highlights productive ways in which scholars have reanimated the concept of structural power to explain puzzles in international and comparative politics. Past comparative scholarship stressed the dependence of the state on holders of capital, but it struggled to reconcile this supposed dependence with the frequent losses of business in political battles. International relation (IR) scholars were attentive to the power of large states, but mainstream IR neglected the ways in which the structure of global capitalism makes large companies international political players in their own right. To promote a unified conversation between international and comparative political economy, structural power is best conceptualized as a set of mutual dependencies between business and the state. A new generation of structural power research is more attentive to how the structure of capitalism creates opportunities for some companies (but not others) vis-à-vis the state, and the ways in which that structure creates leverage for some states (but not others) to play off companies against each other. Future research is likely to put agents – both states and large firms – in the foreground as political actors, rather than showing how the structure of capitalism advantages all business actors in the same way against non-business actors.

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* European University Institute, San Domenico, Italy, e-mail:
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Article note: This special issue had its origin in a workshop held at the European University Institute in October 2014 and devoted to an exchange of ideas about the role of structural power in contemporary political science. I am grateful to the Europe in the World research area, part of the Global Governance Programme at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the EUI, which provided financial support for the workshop. Philip Rocco has been a great source of editorial advice and intellectual support throughout the process of pulling together this special issue. In this introductory article I have drawn on the scholarship of all the contributors to this issue, though none of them is responsible for the interpretations I have imposed on their ideas. For helpful comments on earlier versions of this article I thank Patrick Emmenegger, Tasha Fairfield, Jacob Hacker, Alan Jacobs, Thomas Paster, Paul Pierson, and Kevin Young.
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