Skip to main content Accessibility help

Structural power and political science in the post-crisis era

  • Pepper D. Culpepper


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.

    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Structural power and political science in the post-crisis era
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Structural power and political science in the post-crisis era
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Structural power and political science in the post-crisis era
      Available formats


Corresponding author

* European University Institute, San Domenico, Italy, e-mail:


Hide All
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.



Hide All
Abdelal, Rawi. 2015. “The Multinational Firm and Geopolitics: Europe, Russian Energy, and Power.” Business and Politics 17 (3): 553576.
Alfaro, Laura. 2015. “Sovereign Debt Restructuring: Evaluating the Impact of the Argentina Ruling.” Harvard Business Law Review 5 (1): 4771.
Andrews, David. 1994. “Capital Mobility and State Autonomy: Toward a Structural Theory of International Monetary Autonomy.” International Studies Quarterly 38: 193218.
Bachrach, Peter, and Baratz, Morton S. 1962. “Two Faces of Power.” American Political Science Review 56 (4): 947952.
Baumgartner, Frank R., Berry, Jeffrey M., Hojnacki, Marie, Kimball, David C., and Leech, Beth L. 2009. Lobbying and Policy Change: Who Wins, Who Loses, and Why. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Bell, Stephen. 2012. “The Power of Ideas: The Ideational Shaping of the Structural Power of Business.” International Studies Quarterly 56: 661673.
Bennett, Andrew, and Checkel, Jeffrey T. 2014. Process Tracing: From Metaphor to Analytic Tool. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Block, Fred. 1980. “Beyond Relative Autonomy: State Managers as Historical Subjects.” The Socialist Register 17: 227241.
Culpepper, Pepper D. 2011. Quiet Politics and Business Power. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Culpepper, Pepper D. and Reinke, Raphael. 2014. “Structural Power and Bank Bailouts in the United Kingdom and the United States.” Politics & Society 42 (4): 427454.
Emmenegger, Patrick. 2015. “The Long Arm of Justice: U.S. Structural Power and International Banking.” Business and Politics 17 (3): 473493.
Fairfield, Tasha. 2015a. Private Wealth and Public Revenue in Latin America: Business Power and Tax Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Fairfield, Tasha. 2015b. “Structural Power in Comparative Political Economy: Perspectives from Policy Formulation in Latin America.” Business and Politics 17 (3): 411441.
Farrell, Henry, and Newman, Abraham L. 2015. “Structuring Power: Business and Authority Beyond the Nation-State.” Business and Politics 17 (3): 527552.
Garrett, Geoffrey. 1998. “Global Markets and National Politics.” International Organization 52 (4): 787824.
Gill, Stephen, and Law, David. 1989. “Global Hegemony and the Structural Power of Capital.” International Studies Quarterly 33 (4): 475499.
Hacker, Jacob S. and Pierson, Paul. 2002. “Business Power and Social Policy: Employers and the Formation of the American Welfare State.” Politics & Society 30 (2): 277325.
Hacker, Jacob S. and Pierson, Paul. 2010. Winner-Take-All Politics. New York, London: Simon & Schuster.
Hall, Peter A. 2003. “Aligning Ontology and Methodology in Comparative Politics.” In Comparative Historical Analysis in the Social Sciences, edited by Mahoney, James and Rueschemeyer, Dietrich, 373406. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Helleiner, Eric. 2014. The Status Quo Crisis: Global Financial Governance After the 2008 Meltdown. New York: Oxford University Press.
Hindmoor, Andrew, and McGeechan, Josh. 2013. “Luck, Systematic Luck and Business Power: Lucky All the Way Down or Trying Hard to Get What It Wants Without Trying?Political Studies 61 (4): 834849.
Kirshner, Jonathan. 2014. American Power after the Financial Crisis. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Lindblom, Charles E. 1977. Politics and Markets. New York: Basic Books.
Marsh, David. 1983. “Interest Group Activity and Structural Power: Lindblom's Politics and Markets.” West European Politics 6 (2): 313.
McCarty, Nolan, Poole, Keith T., and Rosenthal, Howard. 2013. Political Bubbles: Financial Crises and the Failure of American Democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Miliband, Ralph. 1969. The State in Capitalist Society. London, UK: Quartet Bo.
Mosley, Layna. 2000. “Room to Move: International Financial Markets and National Welfare States.” International Organization 54 (4): 737773.
Paster, Thomas. 2015. “Bringing Power Back In: A Review of the Literature on the Role of Business in Welfare State Politics. MPIfG Discussion Paper 15/3.
Przeworski, Adam, and Wallerstein, Michael. 1988. “Structural Dependence of the State on Capital.” American Political Science Review 82 (1): 1129.
Reinke, Raphael. 2014. “The Politics of Bank Bailouts.” PhD dissertation, European University Institute.
Smith, Mark A. 2000. American Business and Political Power. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Strange, Susan. 1996. The Retreat of the State: The Diffusion of Power in the World Economy. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Swank, Duane. 1992. “Politics and the Structural Dependence of the State in Democratic Capitalist Nations.” American Political Science Review 86 (1): 3854.
Vogel, David. 1987. “Political Science and the Study of Corporate Power: A Dissent from the New Conventional Wisdom.” British Journal of Political Science 17 (4): 385408.
Winecoff, William Kindred. 2015. “Structural Power and the Global Financial Crisis: A Network Analytical Approach.” Business and Politics 17 (3): 495525.
Winters, Jeffrey A. 1996. Power in Motion. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Young, Kevin. 2012. “Transnational Regulatory Capture?” An Empirical Examination of the Transnational Lobbying of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision.” Review of International Political Economy 19 (4): 663688.
Young, Kevin. 2015. “Not By Structure Alone: Power, Prominence, and Agency in American Finance.” Business and Politics 17 (3): 443472.


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed