Threefold Taxonomy of Power Studies in International Relations Theory

DOI: 10.20542/0131-2227-2019-63-4-68-77

N. Yudin (,
Lomonosov Moscow State University, 1, Leninskie Gory, Moscow, 119991, Russian Federation


Growing international tensions give new impetus to studies on power relations in world politics and pose greater demands on conceptual framework of power studies. It must be admitted, however, that at their current state the studies on power do not meet the challenges of contemporary world politics. Behind constantly emerging new “concepts” of power and intense scholarly debates, growing fragmentation of the research field and continuous erosion of its theoretical frameworks lies, which in turn makes a science-based approach to studying international relations almost impossible. The first step towards addressing these challenges implies development of an inclusive and coherent taxonomy of existing definitions of power, the one that is capable of accommodating the diversity of views without superficial and voluntaristic blurring of their distinctions. In order to achieve this goal, it seems reasonable to divert attention from sectional differences and to focus on the very basic ontological and epistemological foundations of the key conceptions of power. The first section of the paper examines two most common approaches towards mapping the power studies, that is the twofold and fourfold approaches. The former draws distinction between attributive and behaviorist definitions of power, whereas the latter generally correlates with the “four faces of power” debate. The author concludes that both of them fail to grasp the true essence and implications of the postmodernist workings on power and thus provide an oversimplified image of power studies. The second section of the paper directly addresses the basic philosophical premises of the postmodernist conceptualizations of power agenda in international relations and shows that postmodernist writings on power relations demonstrate a fundamental break with all previous traditions of power studies. Accordingly, the author outlines a threefold taxonomy of power studies, including attributive, behaviorist and postmodernist approaches as three distinct and separate lines of research, each based on a specific understanding of the essence of power, the subjectivity of actors within the power relations, the possibility of existence of objective knowledge, and each dialectically linked to one another by the law of the negation of negation.

Acknowledgements. The article has been supported by a grant of the Russian Foundation for Basic Research (RFBR). Project 18-311-00088.


international relations theory, conceptual analysis, power studies, concept of power, positivism, postmodernism, faces of power, M. Foucault


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For citation:
Yudin N. Threefold Taxonomy of Power Studies in International Relations Theory. Mirovaya ekonomika i mezhdunarodnye otnosheniya, 2019, vol. 63, No 4, pp. 68-77.

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