Power and cause

Article

Abstract

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.

Keywords

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

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Copyright information

© 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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