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Rethinking political structures: from ‘ordering principles’ to ‘vertical differentiation’ – and beyond

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 March 2009

Jack Donnelly
Affiliation:
Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver, USA
Corresponding
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Abstract

‘Structure’ in the discipline of International Relations, for all the criticism of Kenneth Waltz’ work, still typically means the Waltzian triad of ordering principles, functional differentiation, and distribution of capabilities. I argue, however, that this triad not only does not in Waltz’ particular presentation but cannot provide an adequate account of political structures. In its place I sketch a five-part framework of the elements of political structures. Three types of structural differentiation are identified: vertical differentiation, which establishes hierarchical ranking; horizontal differentiation, which establishes non-hierarchical segmentation; and unit differentiation, which assigns certain types of actors a privileged status. Two dimensions of structural elaboration are also identified: norms and institutions and technology and geography. This framework highlights the central place of ranking in international political structures, developing a tripartite account of ‘ordering principles’ that identifies autarchic, single-hierarchic, and heterarchic systems. It also draws attention to the diversity of international orders and opens structural analysis to the concerns and contributions of constructivism.

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Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2009

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