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Power and International Relations: a temporal view

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International Relations scholars are certain about two facts: power is the defining concept of the discipline and there is no consensus about what that concept means. One explanation for this problematic state of the field is that most International Relations scholars freight their analyses of power with hidden assumptions about time. Temporality is an essential component of political analysis, as a burgeoning literature has begun to explore. This paper argues that there are two latent presumptions about time that fundamentally affect how scholars conceptualize power in world politics. First, scholars are rarely explicit in defining the temporal scope of their key causal processes. The longer the implicit temporal scope, the more expansive their definition and operationalization of power can be. Second, there is considerable variation of beliefs about the temporal returns to power: does exercising or accumulating power generate positive or negative feedback effects over time? Relying on canonical works in the field, this paper examines the hidden assumptions that different paradigms make about power and time. Illuminating these assumptions clarifies the root of cross-paradigmatic disagreements about international politics and suggests some interesting pathways for future theoretical and empirical work.




Drezner, D. (2021). Power and International Relations: a temporal view. European Journal of International Relations, 27(1), 29–52.

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