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Power in International Politics

  • Michael Barnett (a1) and Raymond Duvall (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 January 2005

The concept of power is central to international relations. Yet disciplinary discussions tend to privilege only one, albeit important, form: an actor controlling another to do what that other would not otherwise do. By showing conceptual favoritism, the discipline not only overlooks the different forms of power in international politics, but also fails to develop sophisticated understandings of how global outcomes are produced and how actors are differentially enabled and constrained to determine their fates. We argue that scholars of international relations should employ multiple conceptions of power and develop a conceptual framework that encourages rigorous attention to power in its different forms. We first begin by producing a taxonomy of power. Power is the production, in and through social relations, of effects that shape the capacities of actors to determine their circumstances and fate. This general concept entails two crucial, analytical dimensions: the kinds of social relations through which power works (in relations of interaction or in social relations of constitution); and the specificity of social relations through which effects are produced (specific/direct or diffuse/indirect). These distinctions generate our taxonomy and four concepts of power: compulsory, institutional, structural, and productive. We then illustrate how attention to the multiple forms of power matters for the analysis of global governance and American empire. We conclude by urging scholars to beware of the idea that the multiple concepts are competing, and instead to see connections between them in order to generate more robust understandings of how power works in international politics.This article was first presented at a conference, “Who Governs in Global Governance?” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We thank the participants at the conference, including Emanuel Adler, Alex Wendt, Neta Crawford, Kathryn Sikkink, Helen Kinsella, Martha Finnemore, Jutta Weldes, Jon Pevehouse, Andrew Hurrell, John Ruggie, and especially Duncan Snidal, Robert Keohane, and Charles Kupchan. Other versions were presented at the University of Minnesota and the International Studies Association meetings in Budapest, Hungary in June, 2003. We also want to thank Kurt Burch, Thomas Diez, Tom Donahue, William Duvall, Ayten Gundogdu, Stefano Guzzini, Colin Kahl, Amit Ron, Latha Varadarajan, Michael Williams, Anne-Marie Slaughter, the editors of the journal, and two anonymous reviewers. We also acknowledge the bibliographic assistance of Emilie Hafner-Burton and Jonathan Havercroft.

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International Organization
  • ISSN: 0020-8183
  • EISSN: 1531-5088
  • URL: /core/journals/international-organization
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