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Symbolic power in European diplomacy: the struggle between national foreign services and the EU's External Action Service

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 October 2013

Abstract

National diplomacy is challenged by the rise of non-state actors from transnational companies to non-governmental organisations. In trying to explain these challenges, scholars tend to either focus on a specific new actor or argue that states will remain the dominant diplomatic players. This article develops an alternative Bourdieu-inspired framework addressing symbolic power. It conceptualises diplomacy in terms of a social field with agents (field incumbents and newcomers alike) who co-construct and reproduce the field by struggling for dominant positions. The framework is applied to the EU's new diplomatic service (the European External Action Service, EEAS), which is one of the most important foreign policy inventions in Europe to date. I show that the EEAS does not challenge national diplomacy in a material sense – but at a symbolic level. The EEAS questions the state's meta-capital, that is, its monopoly of symbolic power and this explains the counter-strategies adopted by national foreign services. The struggles to define the ‘genuine’ diplomat reveal a rupture in the European diplomatic field, pointing towards a transformation of European statehood and the emergence of a hybrid form of diplomacy. A focus on symbolic power opens up new avenues for the study of transformations of authority in world politics.

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Copyright © British International Studies Association 2013 

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