Mark Beeson

in Political Science

ISBN: 9780199756223
Published online February 2013 | | DOI:

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The word “hegemony” is of Greek origin and originally referred to the dominant or preponderant position of one state over others in the international system. For many commentators, especially realists, this remains a useful working definition. However, the notion of hegemony has become more controversial—and, for some, more useful—because it is seen as capturing a much broader set of relationships and processes than simple state-to-state relations. There are now a number of other approaches that seek to directly or indirectly utilize the notion of hegemony or dominance to explain contemporary international relations. Some liberal scholars, for example, focus on the role of institutions, especially those established under the auspices of “American hegemony” following World War II, to explain the way particular international orders are associated with the dominant position of one country. Not all liberals are comfortable with the term, however, and some prefer to talk of “leadership” rather than domination or hegemony because of hegemony’s negative connotations and contemporary association with critical scholarship. Other observers, working in a broadly Marxist tradition, emphasize the class interests they think transcend national borders but that overwhelmingly benefit and reflect the power of a dominant state. Various schools of thought and disciplinary traditions also tend to emphasize different possible aspects of hegemonic power. Geographers and political economists, for example, have focused on the spatial and economic aspects of hegemony. Realists, by contrast, stress the importance of military might and the continuing possibility of conflict. Liberals and others point to the growing importance of economic strength in explaining hegemonic decline, challenge, and possible transition. An interest in ideational influence and “soft power” is also evident in the analyses of liberals and what have been described as “neo-Gramscian” scholars. All of these approaches are united by their efforts to explain the pivotal role played by the most powerful state of a specific era in underpinning particular international orders.

Article.  6633 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; Comparative Politics ; Political Institutions ; Political Methodology ; Political Theory

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