#learn power wednesdays: Susan Strange, structural power – and connectivity


Today, I would like to introduce you to the work of Susan Strange (June 9, 1923 – October 25, 1998), a British political scientist who pretty much created the discipline of international political economy and invented the concept of structural power (1987). Strange was a hard-to-classify thinker – hard to classify, that is, in terms of the often sectarian schools of International Relations (IR) theory. She is easily classifiable as an original mind who did great justice to the complexity of international politics – and power in it.

realists, she was acutely interested in power. But unlike realists, she was able to look beyond the state to include non-state actors, and highlighted very early on how globalisation both overwhelmed and weakened the state (1996). Like Marxists, she focused on inequity, but without wedding herself to classes as units of analysis. Like
proponents of liberal IR theory, she took markets seriously, but pondered in which political and cultural context they existed. Long before our current ongoing financial crisis, she warned of states losing control over markets.

Strange perceived power, structural power, as a
dispositional concept. Beyond material or ideational factors, which directly determined outcomes of power struggles, power shaped
the structures, the rules of the game, in which states existed.

Strange had identified four elements of structural power:


The capacity to wield military power in order to protect oneself and others;

the ability to control a system of goods and services;

the possibility to determine the structure of finance and

the capacity to acquire and disseminate knowledge.

I think that the concept of structural power is very relevant in our networked international system. What needs to be looked at are the mechanism that animate said power structures. How does the possession of “power resources” translate into power over structure? How do different power resources relate to each other? How does change come about, for example, how does structural power fade? 

I would argue that in our networked world, connectivity, i.e., control over linkages – between countries, between networks – is a major element of structural power.

Further reading:

Strange, Susan (1987): The Persistent Myth of Lost Hegemony. In: International Or-ganization41, no. 4 (Autumn),551-574.

(1988) States and Markets. An Introduction to International Political Economy. London: Pinter Publishers.

(1996) The Retreat of the State: The Diffusion of Power in the World Economy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

LAWTON, Thomas C.; ROSENAU, James N.; VERDUN, Amy (2000) Strange Power: Shaping the parameters of international relations and international political economy. Aldershot/Burlington, Ashgate

Johanna M

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