Power and cause



Conceiving power relations as a subset of causal relations can be used to expose the problems of a certain behaviouralist take on causality and develop an interpretivist approach to explanation. The first section of this article shows that a behaviouralist approach ultimately clashes with a relational understanding of power, since the latter requires endogenising values and understandings in an analysis in which several causal paths to the same outcome can exist (equifinality) with radically different implications for attributing power. Power relations can be non-linear, and power dispositional or latent, as well as not translating into influence. The second section draws the consequences of these contradictions by conceptualising causal/social mechanisms for and in an interpretivist framework. Such mechanisms can be part of a wider analysis of contingent processes that answer ‘how possible’ questions. Although interpretivist process-tracing provides explanations without strict regularity, such processes include mechanisms which are transferable to other cases, hence generalisable. Finally, the article establishes a specific discursive mechanism of crisis reduction in foreign policy identity discourses, as developed in the comparative study of the processes that make us understand the unexpected return of geopolitical thought in Europe in the 1990s.


causation constitutive theory constructivism disposition equifinality interpretivist process-tracing power social/causal mechanism 



The first version of this article was written in June 2013 during my fellowship at the Collegio Carlo Alberto in Turin. My thanks to the Collegio for the opportunity to spend an academic year there. The second (oral) version was presented at the author workshop on causation in IR at the University of Reading in June 2014, and the first submitted draft was discussed at the DIIS-NUPI research workshop in June 2015 at DIIS in Copenhagen. My thanks go to all participants and in particular to Adam Humphreys and Hidemi Suganami, as well as to the referees and editors of JIRD. A special thanks to Heikki Patomäki, who kindly nudged me to explore causation ever since his talk at the CEU in Budapest in 1995, then revised and published (Patomäki 1996). The usual disclaimers apply.


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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Danish Institute for International Studies, Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio de Janeiro)Uppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden
  2. 2.Danish Institute for International StudiesCopenhagenDenmark

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