Skip to main content

Recognition and liquid authority

  • Ole Jacob Sending (a1)

To analyze how authority emerges, become institutionalized, and may be transformed, we are best served with a concept of authority that highlights its dynamic features, and that captures the multiplicity of actors involved in producing and sustaining it. Extant accounts tend to operate with a view of ‘solid’ authority, but such a concept of authority is mainly descriptive, not explanatory. A turn to the liquid features of authority is not only better suited to account for global authority, but also for those pockets of ‘solid’ authority that we can find in the global or international sphere. I develop an account of authority that draws selectively from some of Bourdieu’s core concepts and highlight the inherently relational aspect of authority. Authority, I submit, is based on actors’ search for recognition. Such a perspective is better able to account for how authority emerges and may stabilize as ‘solid,’ and also be transformed over time. I draw on examples from the World Health Organization and the UN Security Council to illustrate the argument.

  • View HTML
    • 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.

      Recognition and liquid authority
      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.

      Recognition and liquid authority
      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.

      Recognition and liquid authority
      Available formats
Corresponding author
Hide All
Adler-Nissen, Rebecca. ed. 2012. Bourdieu in International Relations. London: Routledge.
Adler-Nissen, Rebecca, and Pouliot, V.. 2014. “Power in Practice: Negotiating the International Intervention in Syria.” European Journal of International Relations 20(4):889911.
Avant, Deborah, Martha Finnemore, and Susan Sell, ed. 2010. Who governs the globe?. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Barnett, Michael, and Finnemore, Martha. 2004. Rules of the World: International Organizations in Global Politics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Bartelson, Jens. 2013. “Three Concepts of Recognition.” International Theory 5(1):107129.
Bigo, Didier. 2007. The Field of the EU Internal Security Agencies. Collection Cultures et Conflits. Paris: L’Harmattan.
Bigo, Didier. 2011. “Pierre Bourdieu and International Relations: Power of Practices, Practices of Power.” International Political Sociology 5(3):33.
Bosco, David L. 2009. Five to Rule Them All – The Security Council and the Making of the Modern World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1989. “Social Space and Symbolic Power.” Sociological Theory 7(1):1425.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 2000. Pascalian Mediations. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 2014. On the state: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1989–1992. Cambridge: Polity, 2014.
Bourdieu, Pierre, and Wacquant, L.. 1992. An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press.
Brown, Theodore M., Cueto, Marcos, and Fee, Elizabeth. 2006. “The World Health Organization and the Transition From ‘International’ to ‘Global’ Public Health.” American Journal of Public Health 96(1):6272.
Cohen, J. 2012. Globalization and Sovereignty. Rethinking Legality, Legitimacy, and Constitutionalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Cooper, S., Hawkins, D., Jacoby, W., and Nielson, D.. 2008. “Yielding Sovereignty to International Institutions: Bringing System Structure Back In.” International Studies Review 10(3):501524.
Elias, Norbert. 1939/2000. The Civilizing Process. Sociogenetic and Psychogenetic Investigations. Oxford: Blackwell.
Eriksen, S. S., and Sending, Ole J.. 2013. “There is no Global Public: The Idea of the Public and the Legitimation of Governance.” International Theory 5(2):213.
Friedman, R. B. 1990. On the Concept of Authority in Political Philosophy. Authority. J. Raz. New York: New York University Press, 56–91.
Godlee, Fiona. 1995. “WHO’s Special Programmes: Undermining From Above.” British Medical Journal 310:178182.
Haas, Peter M. 1992. “Epistemic Communities and International Policy.” International Organization 46(1):135.
Hanrieder, Tine. 2015. International Organizations in Time: Fragmentation and Reform. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hurd, Ian. 2005. “The Strategic Use of Liberal Internationalism: Libya and the UN Sanctions, 1992–2003.” International Organization 59(3):495526.
Isenbaert, Mathieu. 2010. “EC Law and the Sovereignty of the Member States in Direct Taxation”. IBFD Doctoral Series 19. Amsterdam: IBFD.
Keck, Margareth, and Sikkink, Kathryn. 1998. Activists Beyond Borders. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Koremenos, Barbara, Lipson, Charles, and Snidal, Duncan. 2001. “The Rational Design of International Institutions.” International Organization 55(4):138.
Krisch, Nico. this issue. “Liquid Authority in Global Governance.” International Theory 9.
Lake, David. 2009. Hierarchy in International Relations. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Mazover, Mark. 2009. No Enchanted Palace. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
McAdam, Doug, Sidney Tarrow, and Charles Tilly. 2001. Dynamics of Contention. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Neumann, Iver B. 2015. “Institutionalizing Peace and Reconciliation Diplomacy: Third-Party Reconciliation as Systems Maintenance.” in Diplomacy and the Making of World Politics, edited by Sending, Ole J, Pouliot Vincent, and Neumann I. B., 140167. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Pouliot, Vincent. 2010. International Security in Practice: The Politics of NATO-Russia Diplomacy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Pouliot, Vincent. 2016. International Pecking Orders: The Politics and Practice of Multilateral Diplomacy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Price, Richard M. 2003. “Transnational Civil Society and Advocacy in World Politics.” World Politics 55(4):579606.
Prantl, Jochen. 2005. “Informal Groups of States and the UN Security Council.” International Organization 59(03):559592.
Risse, Thomas. ed. 1999. The Power of Human Rights. International Norms and Domestic Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ruger, Jennifer Prah. 2005. “The changing role of the World Bank in global health.” American Journal of Public Health 95(1):6070.
Schia, Niels Nagelhus. 2013. “Being Part of the Parade: ‘Going Native in the United Nations Security Council.’” Political and Legal Anthropology Review 36:138156.
Schiff, Jade. 2014. Burdens of Political Responsibility. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Schlesinger, Stephen. 2003. Act of Creation: The Founding of the United Nations. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Sending, Ole J. 2015. The Politics of Expertise: Competing for Authority in Global Governance. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Steinmetz, George. 2006. “Bourdieu’s Disavowal of Lacan.” Constellations 13(4):445464.
Steinmetz, George. 2008. “The Colonial State as a Social Field: Ethnographic Capital and Native Policy in the German Overseas Empire Before 1914.” American Review of Sociology 73(4):589612.
Wacquant, Loic. 2005. Pierre Bourdieu and Democratic Politics: The Mystery of Ministry. Cambridge: Polity.
Williams, Michael C. 2006. Culture and Security: Symbolic Power and the Politics of International Security. New York: Routledge.
Zürn, Michael, Binder, Martin, and Ecker-Ehrhardt, Matthias. 2012. “International Authority and its Politicization.” International Theory 4(1):69106.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

International Theory
  • ISSN: 1752-9719
  • EISSN: 1752-9727
  • URL: /core/journals/international-theory
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



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