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Article

Keith Dowding

Power is a complex topic that is viewed in entirely different ways by different writers. Power can be seen as a property of agents, with some agents having more power than others. It can be seen as a property of social systems, where structures hold power. It can also be seen in terms of specific actions by people to coerce or dominate, or it can be regarded as a subliminal force that leads people to think and behave in one way rather than another. It can be analyzed descriptively to try to explain how it is distributed, and critically to argue for changing structures to provide a more egalitarian and fairer distribution. Power studies flourished in the great community power studies of the 1950s and 1960s. Some of these works suggested that democratic nations were controlled by powerful elites who ruled in their own interests; some that power was more widely distributed and elites could not simply rule for themselves; others that in capitalist societies, despite some counterexamples, elites generally ruled in favor of developers and capitalists. Later studies examined how people’s interests are defined in terms of the structural positions in which they find themselves, and how the very ways in which we think and express ourselves affect our individual powers.

Article

Candice Ortbals and Lori Poloni-Staudinger

Gender influences political violence, which includes, for example, terrorism, genocide, and war. Gender uncovers how women, men, and nonbinary persons act according to feminine, masculine, or fluid expectations of men and women. A gendered interpretation of political violence recognizes that politics and states project masculine power and privilege, with the result that men occupy the dominant social position in politics and women and marginalized men are subordinate. As such, men (associated with masculinity) are typically understood as perpetrators of political violence with power and agency and women (associated with femininity) are seen as passive and as victims of violence. For example, women killed by drone attacks in the U.S. War on Terrorism are seen as the innocent, who, along with children, are collateral damage. Many historical and current examples, however, demonstrate that women have agency, namely that they are active in social groups and state institutions responding to and initiating political violence. Women are victims of political violence in many instances, yet some are also political and social actors who fight for change. Gendercide, which can occur alongside genocide, targets a specific gender, with the result that men, women, or those who identify with a non-heteronormative sexuality are subject to discriminatory killing. Rape in wartime situations is also gendered; often it is an expression of men’s power over women and over men who are feminized and marginalized. Because war is typically seen as a masculine domain, wartime violence is not associated with women, who are viewed as life givers and not life takers. Similarly, few expect women to be terrorists, and when they are, women’s motivations often are assumed to be different from those of men. Whereas some scholars argue that women pursue terrorism for personal (and feminine) reasons, for example to redeem themselves from the reputation of rape or for the loss of a male loved one, other scholars maintain that women act on account of political or religious motivations. Although many cases of women’s involvement in war and terrorism can be documented throughout history, wartime leadership and prominent social positions following political violence have been reserved for men. Leaders with feminine traits seem undesirable during and after political violence, because military leadership and negotiations to end military conflict are associated with men and masculinity. Nevertheless, women’s groups and individual women respond to situations of violence by protesting against violence, testifying at tribunals and truth commissions, and constructing the political memory of violence.

Article

First-generation constructivist theories argue that international norms are constitutive and regulative—that they shape state behaviors and promote international cooperation. Theories focus on the life-cycle of international norms and probe their impact on cooperation across a range of issue areas. However, a new generation of scholarship has identified the potential for contestation and challenge in international norm development and maintenance. Critical constructivist theory recognizes powerful roles for agency and alternative definitions of norm parameters and compliance. Norm contestation can occur in multiple ways. First, critical constructivists recognize the norm development process itself can involve significant struggles over the definitions and prescriptions of normative architectures. Second, state leaders sometimes challenge the definition and prescriptions that flow from established normative architectures, and they may engage in contestation over the validity or justification of the norm or application in international institutions. Third, some norms may not become internalized in standard ways at the state level due to alternative patterns of norm diffusion and localization. Fourth, norm strength also can be affected by the actions of rival advocacy coalitions in processes of contestation. While contestation represents a vibrant research program today, critics charge that it suffers from significant limitations. No single theory of norm change or contestation has emerged as dominant in the first decade of research, and scholars are just beginning to grapple with whether greater attention should be devoted to contestation during norm development or localization/diffusion challenges. In addition, the concept of norm change raises an ontological debate about whether norms are static or dynamic in nature, and how best to study the cyclical development of norms (or norm change over time). A discussion of areas for further research and empirical testing of norm contestation theories is also presented.

Article

For much of the history of the study of international relations, and of foreign policy as a distinctive subfield, scholars have debated the relative weight of agency and structure in shaping the course of international events. Often, the significance of agency versus structure depends on the scope of inquiry. Efforts to identify broad patterns of social interaction tend to play up the significance of structure, while studies of specific events bring agency to the fore. International relations theory is typically associated with the former, and foreign policy analysis (FPA) is more closely linked to the latter. That association suggests that the question of agency versus structure in international outcomes is settled in FPA in favor of agency. An assessment of the literature in FPA shows such a suggestion to be wide of the mark. Not only does FPA struggle with the question of agency versus structure that pervades the study of international relations generally, but also it wrestles with how to reconcile agency and structure in the context of psychological constraints on human cognition. Thus, rather than resolving the debate between agency and structure, the literature on FPA shows that it extends down to the level of individual policymakers. The debate over the role of agency and structure occupies two axes. The first is the engagement of FPA with broader debates over agency and structure in international relations scholarship. The second is the tension between agency and structure in FPA that emerges once psychology is incorporated into the analytical matrix. In both cases, the significance of structure in the actual analysis of foreign policy is far greater than common conception recognizes. This reality means that FPA represents the cutting edge for theoretical and analytical efforts to understand the relationship between structure and agency in international outcomes.

Article

International Relations theory has tended to overlook the role of Africa and Africans in the international system. Traditionally, the discipline’s most influential theorists have focused instead on relationships between and perspectives of “major powers.” A growing body of work, however, has challenged these more limited efforts to conceptualize African agency in international politics. This scholarship has emphasized the significant space available to, and carved-out by, African states in molding the agendas of international institutions, and the role of African governments and advocacy networks in influencing the trajectory of major international debates around issues such as aid, development, trade, climate change, and migration. The study of African agency in international politics continues to wrestle with two key debates: the meanings of “agency” and “African.” Much of the literature focuses primarily on the role and influence of African states rather than that of African citizens and communities. This focus provides, at best, only a partial and qualified view of the ways in which African agency is secured and exercised at the global level, particularly given the significant structural constraints imposed on Africa by global economic and political inequalities. The extent to which contemporary analysis captures the breadth of African engagement with the international system is also compromised by current state-centric approaches. It is thus necessary to examine a range of approaches adopted by scholars to deepen and nuance the study of African agency in international politics, including work on agenda-setting, mesolevel dynamics and microlevel dynamics.

Article

The theoretical concept of inside activism brings fresh light on institutional change by upgrading the importance of political agency within public organizations. Inside activism captures a specific empirical phenomenon, namely, public officials being committed to the agendas of civil society networks and organizations, and acting from inside public organizations to induce policy and institutional change. Inside activism upgrades political aspects of public organizations, recognizing the importance of authority, power, and combative action. Public organizations are institutionally shaped by continuous processes of consolidation and fragmentation. This means opportunities for inside activists to act politically, preferably in secret and subversive ways, and to further strengthen the fragmented nature of public organizations. Strategically, inside activists can work for institutional change by expanding their agency through the development of collective power and networking, using combative subversive strategy, working for cumulative effects and combinative solutions as well as to bend and break constraints on their actions (the 5C model). To induce change, they further exploit institutional ambiguities like “weak spots” of institutions and discrepancies between institutional rules and practices on the ground. The neglect of inside activism within institutional theory likely means that the possibility of institutional change has been underestimated and there is thus a need for a comprehensive research agenda on inside activism, political agency, and institutional change, which in this article is termed “new political institutionalism.”

Article

The structure of government is fundamentally a matter of multiple alignments of organizations and power involving politics, policy, administration, management, governance, and law. The alignments vary significantly, with numerous conflations of form and function. At the center of power, under immediate executive control and legislative oversight, policy and administration occurs in ministries and departments for which members of the executive are directly responsible. Beyond the center of power, with varying degrees of distance from executive control and legislative oversight, the interplay of policy, administration and management happens in an array of organizations as executive agencies and corporate entities with diffuse executive responsibility. In all alignments, the synthesis of networks and undertaking of reviews are essential, encompassing politics, policy, administration, management, governance, law, and judicial intervention of varying nature and consequence. The situation overall is one of complexity and diversity, requiring acute understanding and strategic action in response to the demands of continuity and change in the conduct of public affairs.

Article

Global governance is a story of human agency confronting the existential challenge of the seismic shift in the international system that is called globalization. Neither phenomenon is yet understood sufficiently in academic theory, but if any social scientific practice is best situated to research it to the requisite depth, it is the discipline of foreign policy analysis. The theory and practice of foreign policy making and implementation are bound to undergo a transformation as radical as the international system. This historic process is dissolving the structure of agency that was set by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. The result has been for state and nonstate actors to compensate with a motley assemblage of structural improvisations, which have been complicating international relations, adding multiple levels of agency above and below the classical nation-state. Where this development will ultimately lead is unknown.

Article

In a multilevel governance system such as the European Union (EU) policy processes at one level may create challenges and dilemmas at lower levels. Multilevel governance involves a multiplicity of regulatory regimes and succeeding governance ambiguities for national actors. These regulatory challenges and ensuring governance dilemmas increasingly affect contemporary European public administration. These challenges and dilemmas are captured by the term turbulence. The inherent state prerogative to formulate and implement public policy is subject to an emergent and turbulent EU administration. Organized turbulence is captured by the supply of independent and integrated bureaucratic capacities at a “European level.” Throughout history (1952 onwards) the EU system has faced shifting hostile and uncertain environments, and responded by erecting turbulent organizational solutions of various kinds. Studying turbulence opens an opportunity to rethink governance in turbulent administrative systems such as the public administration of the EU.

Article

John Polga-Hecimovich

The bureaucracy is a central body in the effective functioning of democracy and oversight of the rule of law, and knowledge of how public agencies interact with politics and effect policy implementation is crucial in understanding the “black box” of the state. However, this body of non-elected officials can only fulfill its mandate and achieve good governance if it meets certain conditions, such as technical expertise, a clear organizational hierarchy, meritocratic recruitment for personnel staffing, as well as political support, resources, and the autonomy to devise solutions based on expertise. Unfortunately for Latin America, its bureaucratic agencies have seldom enjoyed these conditions. Instead, public administration in the region has been characterized by patronage appointments, patrimonialism, and a weak capacity to execute public policies. Yet this blanket depiction of the Latin American bureaucracy obscures a great deal more diversity—as well as the fact that Latin American bureaucrats and public agencies are more dynamic and responsive than they are often portrayed. To begin, the size and role of the public administration have evolved constantly throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, growing under statist development policies of the mid-20th century before shrinking under neoliberalism in the 1990s and again growing during the 2000s in some countries. Moreover, the quality of the bureaucracy to efficiently provide services and implement policy varies by country, over time, and even within countries among agencies. This means that there is also variation in the scope and quality of the bureaucracy’s chief functions of policymaking, regulation, and implementation. In fact, politicians and bureaucrats in the region have found a number of creative solutions to agency weakness. Moving forward, politicians can guarantee even better bureaucratic performance by addressing some enduring challenges, such as public sector corruption and an institutional setup that favors short-term policymaking.

Article

Social change sometimes happens because groups in society make it happen. The social psychology of such “man-made” change in political contexts studies the key psychological and political processes that play an important role in driving such change. Theory and research have focused on political processes as conditions that foster change but also on the psychological processes that describe how a structural potential for change translates into political action, which puts pressure on political decision makers toward social change. This yields important scientific insights into how political action occurs and thus may affect political decision making. As for political processes, one relevant model is McAdam’s political process model, which identifies a number of structural factors that increase the potential for political action to achieve social change. As for psychological processes, one relevant model is the Social Identity Model of Collective Action, which identifies a number of core motivations for political action, and which seeks to integrate psychological insights with political models of social change. A joint discussion of these models offers hope and scope for further theoretical and empirical integration, as well as a broader and more comprehensive understanding of political and psychological processes in political action toward social change.

Article

One-quarter of the world’s states are African and can contribute to international relations theory and practice as the North enters a period of ambivalence and begins to retreat from positive global engagement. Each actor based in or concerned about the African continent, state and non-state alike, advances a foreign policy to reflect its interests, often in coalition with others. East-South relations and a non-Western world, as well as Brazil, Russia, China, India, and South Africa, are important in international development and emerging powers in Africa. The diversion away from international order and peace of the United States under President Donald Trump, the United Kingdom under Prime Minister Theresa May, and the European Union, the latter characterized by unanticipated immigration and endless Eurozone crises, can be positive for African agency and development if the continent can seize the unprecedented space to advance its own developmental states and regionalisms. Such possibilities of Africa’s enhanced prospects are situated in terms of a changing global political economy in which new economies, companies, and technologies are emerging along with contrary, nontraditional security threats. In response, novel forms of transnational “network” governance are being conceived and charted to advance sustainable developmental states and regionalisms through innovative foreign policy stances outside established, but increasingly dysfunctional and ossified, interstate institutions.

Article

The concentration of power at the center of government transcends both political systems and geography. Heads of government everywhere are dealing with powerful forces from permanent election campaigns, social media, 24-hour news channels, the requirement to provide a government-wide perspective on virtually all policy issues, and the need to manage the blame game at a time when transparency requirements are becoming more demanding. They need help to deal with these powerful forces, to manage the policy process, and to direct the work of their government. They can turn to both partisan political advisors and central agencies to assist them in governing from the center. Central agencies stand at the apex of power linking the political with the administrative. They have grown in size and influence in both parliamentary and presidential systems and, in the process, helped heads of government to concentrate more and more power in their own hands. They have grown in size and influence because heads of government have allowed it, if not encouraged it. Central agencies play a leading role in generating policy advice, in allocating financial and human resources, in shaping human resources policies, in monitoring the performance of line departments and agencies, and in establishing regulatory policies that apply both inside and outside government. They have proven to be helpful in helping heads of government to define new measures, to coordinate activities to pursue overarching goals and to make certain that line departments and agencies run on their tracks. It is necessary to explore the capacity of the center of government from several different national settings and from several perspectives to exercise direction on policy and control over the rest of government.

Article

“Machinery of government” is a term widely used to describe the administrative arrangements established in most modern states to enable them to discharge the multitude of functions for which governments hold responsibility. The “machine” is subject to ongoing change needing to be accommodated within it, but it rests on a group of major building blocks subject to that change but nevertheless recognizable in the long term as ministers and ministries, portfolios, departments, and agencies (the latter now often referred to as arm’s-length bodies). Ministries and departments have evolved as the principal organizational types in the British-based Westminster system of government, whose evolution is part of the process of constitutional development, and agencies of various kinds have developed to supplement ministries and departments in their work.

Article

Institutions have always been of great concern to public administration, in both a practical and an analytical sense. The new institutionalism, developing in different versions from the early 1980s, has contributed new and varied insights on how institutional factors shape the life of public administrations. Instead of mainly focusing on formal rules and organizations, as in traditional (“old”) institutionalism, new institutionalism perceives of institutions in a broader sense, as patterned behavior also following from informal rules, norms, and habits. Different institutional perspectives continue to develop with some mutual borrowing of ideas, but they also specialize, which help us understand how public administrations are shaped by the historical legacies of institutions, institutional rules and norms that socialize organization members; institutions as incentive structures designed to increase trust and compliance; organizational adaption to major institutional trends, and institutions as cultures of communication. These perspectives are specific lenses that bring valuable, complementary insights, particularly when it comes to their varied conceptualizations of agency: strategic calculation, social adaption and imitation as well as social construction in communicative settings. However, it is argued that institutionalism has largely neglected political aspects in the interaction between institution and agency, which needs to be explored and elaborated on in future empirical research and theoretical development. The political character of public administrations is very complex and varies from individual preference falsification in order to adapt to institutions, to subversive actions for trying to undermine or to secure existing institutions when important values are at stake in public administrations.

Article

Lara Rusch, R. Khari Brown, Ronald E. Brown, and Francine Banner

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s spiritual vision of a Beloved Community, equally valuing all humans, called for direct, transgressive action for political and cultural change. Despite his and others’ effective mobilization for racial justice, this vision of an economically just society has largely not been achieved. The 20th century witnessed a growing chasm in political interpretations of American Christianity, between those who believe their faith requires challenging the roots of poverty and those who believe such inequality reflects fair judgment on personal behavior. These dynamics affect the charitable and political choices of religious institutions as well as individual support for social programs. Most clergy in the United States report preaching about issues social justice, and the vast majority of churches provide some social services; however, less than a third engage in political action toward similar goals. Regional inequality, the mobility of people and capital, and dynamics of congregational adaptation create challenges for religious leaders who seek to educate and engage congregants on social justice. Still, a persistent minority of leaders and institutions actively seek Dr. King’s vision, often working in community coalitions, such as innovative programs for court reform, addressing the criminalization of poverty. More research is needed to assess what kinds of anti-poverty programs and activism are the product of congregations across ideology, and what belief systems or contexts shape their choices to assist the needy. Additionally, future work could consider the appropriate roles for religious institutions in negotiating their own religious mandates and community pressures in relation to the interests of the state, such as through the criminal justice system or public social programs, and the interests of vulnerable community members.

Article

Multilevel governance (MLG) as a research approach has mostly been applied to explain governance issues surrounding the European Union or international organizations. As a general research framework in the area of international relations (IR) theory, however, MLG has widely been underutilized, despite the many advantages that the approach offers in the empirical investigation of an increasingly complex international or global system. There are key concepts, assumptions, and definitions of MLG that focus separately on levels and governance as key elements of the approach and its interdisciplinary lineage. Some contested IR concepts include sovereignty, the nation-state, the international system, anarchy, agency, and levels of analysis. These IR concepts benefit from the application of an MLG framework by enabling the use of an interdisciplinary and multimethodological, yet systematically comprehensive, approach—which allows for nuanced use of these concepts. Other areas that benefit from IR methodologies applied in MLG research are methodological toolkits with a special focus on the areas of global governance, security studies, and international political economy.

Article

Ting Gong and Sunny L. Yang

Corruption is a complex social phenomenon. It refers to the abuse of entrusted power for private gain, but it may still mean different things to different people. The definition of corruption applicable in one place may not be suitable in another setting, and the conception of corruption is highly contextualized. Adding to the difficulty of defining corruption is the lack of accurate measurements for the degree of corruption. Objective and subjective measures have been developed by scholars and practitioners, but their reliability and validity have often been challenged. The measurements developed so far are proxies for the level of corruption rather than accurate diagnostic tools. Despite the difficulties of conceptualizing and measuring corruption, its effects on public administration and social development are clearly evident. Corruption causes losses to state coffers, undermines the rule of law and regulatory regimes, distorts the provision of public services, ruins public trust in government, and weakens the overall quality of governance. Corruption may sometimes grease administrative wheels, but it usually benefits only a few individuals or groups and in the long run is detrimental to the society as a whole. When unchecked or under-checked, corruption destabilizes the economy, destroys political legitimacy, and triggers social unrest. This explains why controlling corruption has been a high priority on the government’s agenda in most countries and has been the focus of the activities of many civil society organizations. Various anti-corruption strategies are adopted; there are, for example, compliance-based, value-based, top-down, bottom-up, economic, institutional, and cultural approaches to controlling corruption. The configuration of anti-corruption agencies may also differ from country to country, displaying distinctive features. Evidently, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to corruption control and prevention. What works or not depends on a country’s specific circumstances. However, the experiences of Hong Kong and Singapore in fighting corruption and building clean societies reveal a few important success factors.