Social Transformations and the Changing Faces of Power
Saturday, September 3, 4:00 to 5:30pm, Marriott, Room 409
Philadelphia, PA

Related Group Panel, International Political Science Association Research Committee No. 36, Political Power
Co-sponsor: IPSA Research Committee 1 (Concepts and Methods)

Panel abstract

Political power can take many forms, shaped by—and shaping—wider social transformations. Since 1648 we have become accustomed to associating power with the consolidation of state institutions and identities, but diverse structural trends are challenging those assumptions in the 21st century. One of the most obvious is globalization, characterized by rapidly evolving transboundary linkages, networks and hierarchies. Within states, various new identities are coming to the fore, local, ethnic and religious, bringing new relationships of power—“power over, “power to,” and “power with.” Regional power relationships, most obviously in Europe but also in Russia, Asia, Africa, Latin America and elsewhere, are emerging in uneven ways. This panel looks at transformations of political power above, below, within, and cutting across the domestic/international frontier.

Philip G. Cerny, University of Manchester and Rutgers University

Philip G. Cerny, University of Manchester and Rutgers University
Julie Mostov, Drexel University

Analyzing Power in a Post-Westphalian World

Thomas Biebricher, Goethe University Frankfurt

Conceiving the world as an ideal-typical “Westphalian System” of nation-states has multiple implications for political analysis. The inside-outside dualism of container-like nation states suggested that power tends to operate in categorically different ways on the anarchic international level, where military force is the ultimate arbiter of things, and the domestic level where power manifests itself predominantly in forms of rule/domination that are tamed by the rule of law. In other words, approaches to study the workings of power developed by theorists of international relations differ markedly from contemporary understandings of power in political theory that often exhibit an implicit or explicit ‘methodological nationalism’, as scholars like Ulrich Beck have called it, i.e. a bias towards theorizing against the taken for granted domestic background of nation state structures etc.

The paper proposes to overcome this dualism in the analysis of power and suggests an analytical framework to study power in a Post-Westphalian world. The first step of the argument is to take stock of the various developments that make it seem plausible to speak of a transformation of the Westphalian into a Post-Westphalian world and what exactly this means. One key aspect of a Post-Westphalian world is the relative leveling of the distinction between the domestic and the international level, therefore the paper proposes a framework that can capture the workings of power across various levels from the municipal to the supranational. More specifically, the framework suggested seeks to analyze power in the various forms it may take, on the various levels it may manifest itself on and in the various spaces where it is exercised. The final step of the paper is to explore, whether such a three-dimensional framework with a fourfold differentiation within each of these dimensions (e.g. four levels on which power manifests itself: the supranational, the national, the regional the municipal) can serve as an analytical tool for a better understanding of some typical phenomena of a Post-Westphalian world from the refugee situation in Europe to the various conflicts in the Middle East.

Wielding Soft Power through Narration

Sarina Theys, Newcastle University

This paper critically engages with the concept of soft power. It rejects the notion that soft power is vested in resources as these do not automatically generate soft power. Having resources only means that there is a potential to wield soft power. The paper further argues that resources can only become attractive to others if they are part of a strategic narrative. In order to illustrate this argument, the paper will analyse the soft power campaigns of one small state, Bhutan. As such, Bhutan’s soft power will be empirically investigated by analysing the strategic narratives developed and projected by the Bhutanese elites. Since attraction and persuasion are socially constructed, and not naturally given, the paper further investigates the reception of Bhutan’s projected narratives. How narratives are read by the audiences is crucial for Bhutanese elites to wield soft power. The paper draws upon unique data gathered from primary sources collected by the author during fieldwork in Bhutan in 2009, 2011 and 2014. Interviews were conducted with Bhutanese elites, representatives from other countries and international organisations and scholars based in Bhutan.

Relational Freedom, Power-with, and the Sociality of Authority

Carol C. Gould, City University of New York


The central problem of justifying political authority and articulating its connection to power is an old one in political theory, dating from Grotius and Hobbes to the analytic disputes in the concluding decades of the last century. In those more recent discussions, consent and contract theories vied with diverse other approaches, including justifications in terms of fair play, benefits received, associative obligations, and communitarianism. But problems were found with each of these strategies of justification. Important feminist critiques were advanced as well, with a particular focus on the voluntary obligations assumed by social contract and consent theories, in contrast to the responsibilities or constraints often experienced by women. Forms of political authority were contrasted with political power or else understood as legitimate power.

All these forms of justification, however, took as their focus political authority within a nation-state. With the increasing globalization of the economic and technological domains, we have seen the emergence of regional and other transnational groupings of states, as well as the introduction of numerous global governance institutions. But the status of political authority and the legitimacy of the exercise of power by these new supranational groupings and global institutions remain in question. Moreover, our standpoints themselves are increasingly cosmopolitan or global, with nation-states now being seen as exercising their power contingently, both in the historical sense, and also contingent on their regard for norms of human rights. Moreover, democracy has come to the fore as a potential criterion for the legitimate exercise of power and authority. New social movements and civil society associations also play an increased role in the authority landscape, as it were, through their networks that claim to represent people to the global, regional, or even national entities who are in the best position to exercise power and authority. The individualist starting points of the older justifications—in which authority derives from consent or contract among separate individuals—are inadequate for the sorts of social and political transformations that many argue are needed at this point, that is, toward more cooperative forms of economy, society, and politics.

I will ask how we should understand political authority and its relation to various forms of power, given our commitments to human rights, democracy, and the importance of cooperative forms of social relations. I will examine again the notions of freedom and authorship, argue for a more social interpretation of each of these as a basis for our political commitments to each other, and analyze power in a way that draws on the feminist notion of power-with more than on the older notions of power over and power to. The connection to democracy will also be explored to consider how political authority and democratic legitimacy are related, particularly given the democratic deficit in regard to the institutions of global governance, and in regional groupings like the EU. The aim will be to identify a democratic conception of authority rooted in our sociality, rather than in the exercise of political power per se, and so as applicable to a range of institutions both within and outside of politics.

Migration and the Transformation of Political Power
Gallya Lahav, State University of New York at Stonybrook


Migration has been transforming world politics and society since prehistoric times. Conflict, competition and coalition-building among earlier and more recent arrivals has led to a layering of societies from the local to the global, and the resulting patterns of political power have been both stabilizing and destabilizing in different geographical areas and eras. The main institutional development in “modern” societies has been the structural shift from the fluid interaction of tribalism, imperialism and early capitalist development to the consolidation of the domestic nation-state and the “states system” internationally, involving shifting attempts to shoehorn migrating groups into state “containers.” However, with the acceleration of economic, technological, sociological and political globalization since the late 20th century, new patterns and pressures of migration not seen for decades are challenging and, in some parts of the world, the statist framework of world politics—both from the top down and from the bottom up, as nation-states at both sending and receiving ends of complex and growing migratory patterns find it more and more difficult to cope within their existing political frameworks. As a result of this and other trends that Rosenau called “fragmegration,” political power is becoming more messy and difficult to exercise, undermining the stability and the legitimacy of the states system.

Political Power in Russia: Consolidation, Transition or Fragmentation?
Peter Rutland, Wesleyan University

The evolution of Russia since 1991 poses both empirical and conceptual challenges for our understanding of political power. In the wake of the chaos and institutional breakdown of the 1990s, the Russian state re-emerged as an apparently “strong” state under Putin. But the internal dynamics of the Russian elite, behind a democratic façade, remained opaque. What were the forces holding the elite together—a patriotic ideology, or just venal self-interest? Is corruption alone sufficient as a glue to create a coherent elite in the era of globalization? There are rich opportunities for comparative analysis of political power in Russia alongside other populist strongman regimes such as Erdogan in Turkey, Sisi in Egypt and Chavez/Maduro in Venezuela. The age-old tendency for such elites to fragment once the leader is gone is even more problematic as multilayered and often transboundary-linked economic interests, socio-cultural identity groups, military hierarchies, multiparty conflicts and reform elements jockey for power and attempt to restructure institutions and political processes. Apparent stability can lead to rapid destabilization in a range of ways that vary from country to country but have common underlying dynamics