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A genealogy of the balance of power

Andersen, Morten Skumsrud (2016) A genealogy of the balance of power. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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The Balance of Power is one of the foundational concepts for the academic discipline of International Relations. Most treat it as a theoretical or analytical concept – a tool that scholars use to investigate the workings of world politics. However, there is a gap in the literature on the balance of power; it is also a concept used by political practitioners and diplomats in concrete debates and disputes throughout centuries. No one has systematically investigated the concept as a ‘category of practice’, and I seek to redress this omission. I ask, how, why, and with what effects has the balance of power concept been deployed across different contexts? This is important, because the discipline needs to investigate the histories of its dominant concepts – the balance of power deserves attention as an object of analysis in its own right. I combine a genealogical reading (by what accidents of history did we end up here?) with conceptual history (how was the balance used then as a rhetorical resource in making arguments?). The result is a history of practical international thought. I trace the trajectory of the balance of power concept empirically and concretely – from its emergence in England based on a domestic republican tradition, to its elaboration at the British-founded University of Göttingen in Hanover, on to Prussia and Germany, before finally ending up in the USA with the emergence of IR as a discipline. Throughout this trajectory, the concept of the balance of power has been centrally linked to what historical actors took to be European polities and their relations. In this trajectory, ‘shifts’ in the balance of power, is governed more by how the concept itself is deployed, than any material or territorial assessment of power alone, or by any deliberate refinement of the concept. It has affected and constituted international politics and foreign policies across time, as well as our own discipline of IR.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2016 Morten Skumsrud Andersen
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JZ International relations
Sets: Departments > International Relations
Supervisor: Neumann, Iver

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