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© 2020 Jeffrey Robertson

Defining a middle power

Saturday, March 4, 2017

I have a new publication entitled 'Middle-Power Definitions: Confusion Reigns Supreme', at the Australian Journal of International Affairs (AJIA), which looks at... the definition of middle powers. The idea was sparked by teaching courses on middle powers and having students struggle with the abundance of competing definitions only to be bombarded with yet another definition every time a new paper comes out. The abstract from the AJIA website:


"Renewed interest in middle powers since the late 2000s has seen a surge in research. Yet an agreed definition is more elusive than ever. This compromises the ability to pursue meaningful research programs, communicate practical policy advice, and instruct future generations. Why is an agreed definition so elusive and how can this challenge be overcome? The author contends that the definition of the term ‘middle power’ has evolved to be less about discovering either ‘the meaning of a word’ or ‘the nature of a thing’ in the pursuit of knowledge, and more about persuasion, influence, coercion and, ultimately, the exercise of power. An alternative approach to definition offers the best hope to address this challenge. With this objective, the author first looks into the nature and criteria for definition in the social sciences. Second, he looks at the structure of contemporary attempts to redefine the term. Third, he analyses definitional ruptures to shed light on the rhetorical import of contests. Finally, the author turns to rhetorical theory to offer an alternative approach to the definition of the term ‘middle power’."


I am getting this out just as the energy on middle powers is once again sliding. More than likely, the popularity of the concept in South Korea where it's had a revival will soon die. But hopefully, this article will make learning and teaching about middle powers a little easier the next time round. In any case, I'll be using it in my next course as the introductory text to definition!


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