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How Hegemony, Institution and Power Has Shaped the Modern International Political Economy

Updated on October 5, 2021
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Hegemony is described as the ideological, political, cultural or economic authority or dominion of one group over other groups. Initially, it was used when referring to ancient city-states in Greek which dominated their neighbors. However, present day philosophers have used the term in various contexts, specifically Antonio Gramsci in his cultural hegemony theory.

Power in politics and social science is the ability to exercise influence and control over the behavior of people. It is also referred to by schoolers as authority. Exercising power is a concept that is largely accepted as prevalent especially to people as social beings. Much of the modern day debate about power revolves around the ability of power to enable. In this regard, power is seen as a way that social actions are made possible. In the social setting, power is seen as situation that is both complex and strategic and needs enablement and constraint.

An institution is a valued, stable, cyclical form of behavior. As an instrument of social order, institution governs the behavior of specific individuals in a social setting. The principal purpose for identifying an institution is to transcend intentions and individuals through the meditation of the law governing living behavior. An institution may be an informal one like a behavior pattern that is significant in a particular society, or it could be a formal one created by public services or governments. Institutions being the structure of social order are significant in studies which relate to social sciences such as economics, political sciences, sociology and anthropology.

This paper will analyze the theories of hegemony, power and institutions in detail and explain using the same how international organizations have shapes the modern day international political economy.

Theories of Hegemony

The concept of hegemony is the most popular concept for Gramsci and it refers to the influence that a group exerts on other groups in a way that makes them abide by its economic and political projects. According to Gramsci, two main structural levels which are civil society and political society correspond to the functions of the influence exerted by the dominant group throughout the society, and similarly correspond to the direct command of the juridical government. As such, hegemony isn’t practiced only through the state’s authoritarian supremacy, even though it is obvious that the power of the state is a significant aspect in their endeavor. This is due to the fact that almost all people in progressive capitalist states tend to accept order.

The conformist group according to Gramsci has some kind of conceptual hegemony over all other groups, which means the power they have is consolidated properly in the state and is also passed across to the society through religious institutions and family traditions. These are hegemonic ideas for the ruling group and is a toleration of some kind of oppression and inequality. Closely related to this idea is the idea of Engel and Marx in their German ideology which claims that every new class that comes to position after another, is forced to portray its interests as the mutual interest for every member in the specific society. In this light, it should make sure its ideas are rational, universally accepted and valid.

Hegemony is equally significant for social groups which are not ruling. If for instance the working class intends to substitute the capitalist class and become the ruling class, it should turn the account of its revolution to a prevalent one. Basing on this example, hegemony will therefore mean that a class should be able to transcend its contracted sectional economic interests and bring itself out to appear as the potential political-social leaders. A perfect example in such a situation is during the Russian revolution when Bolsheviks emerged to be a hegemonic force. This began with their slogans for the working class, which eventually led to itself being the hegemonic force and bringing along peasant, sailors and soldiers. The working class in this regard came out and promised land, peace and bread. This encapsulated the wants and needs of a large part of the nation which belonged to the subaltern class.

Hegemony as a technique of analysis is not new since Axelrod and Plekhanov raised it when they were trying to bring together the sub-altered group close to the working class. According to them, the Russian working class had to ally themselves with the peasantry class so as to lure them into their hegemony. The idea can further be traced back to Engels and Marx when they were presenting the argument concerning how the working class would become the general class only if they won the democracy battle in the communist manifesto

Theory of Institution

The theories of institution go further and deeper on social structure aspects. It takes into account the methods by which routines, norms, rules, schemes and other structures get established and become influential guidelines for communal behavior. Institutional theories have several different components which explain how elements are made, spread, adopted and adapted and how they may decline or stop being used. According to Scott (1995), the school of thought for institution does not have a collectively agreed definition of institution. However, several schoolers assert that an institution is a kind of social structure which has accomplished a high resilience degree. As such they provide meaning and stability to social life through the regulative, cultural cognitive and normative elements which combine with supplementary resources and activities.

An institution can be transmitted by several different carriers which include rational systems, artifacts, and symbolic systems ad routines. They function with a range of authorities ranging from local person to person relationships to world systems. Institutions indicate stability just by their definition but they also are subjected to discontinuous or incremental change from time to time. To shed more light on this, institutionalism in organizations in the modern day society requires one to reject rational actor models, develop concern for institutions as independent variables and turn to cultural and cognitive explanations.

Institutions are made and run by either the behavior of organizations or individuals who are referred to as actors. A particular institution is encrypted into an actor by a process known as normalization. After the actor internalizes the institution, it translates into a behavior with a pattern. If an actor then behaves with regards to that pattern, the institution become endorsed Institutions are consequently re-produced in this manner. Once an institution is endorsed and enacted, it is objectified and other actors see it working. This process begins another socialization round. Overtime, the behavior and the institution dregs and people start taking it for granted. At this time, the actors will be too busy to notice that the institution is partly controlling their behavior, but it is logical to take it rationally when an actor acts according to the institution especially if you share an institution. This is the basic structure of international institutions such as the World Bank. Their actions are based on the stipulated behavior and they cannot do anything out of it.

Theories of Power

The contemporary concept of power is rooted back to Thomas Hobbes and Nicollo Machiavelli. The writings of these two are perceived as being the standard of political literature and their comparison presents a two way traffic along which schoolers have presented their thoughts about power to date. Nicollo presents the decentralized and strategic way of thinking about organizations and power. Nicollo ultimately denotes that it is extremely rare to achieve power, but it is the most desired ultimate end. According to him, power is a means and not a resource, which pursues tactical advantage, like military advantage. On the other hand, Hobbes casually refers to power as influence or hegemony. For him, power focuses on sovereignty and is centralized.

During the mid-twentieth century, Hobble’s view of power appeared triumphant. His writings, written centuries after the prince publishing, became more appropriate to contemporary research as compared to Nicollo’s military ideas. Social sciences research required logic and precision, and inquires how to quantify, observe or measure power. Hobbes presented power as an act of will. This meant that power is a supreme factor where other people’s willpowers are subject. Another schooler, Weber, approached power from a different angle. His approach was linked to his undying interest in bureaucracy and as such he likened power to the concepts of rule and authority.

According to Weber, power is the possibility of a worker within a social relationship being in a position to execute their will even in the midst of resistance to it. In this matter, power activation will depend on the will of a person whether or not it may oppose someone else’s will. Weber’s interest in power was due to the fact that power was an aspect of domination, with regards to authoritarian and economic interests. In conclusion however, Weber points out that power is substantial to life and is the most elite principal of social structure. He notes that power is created by human agents, is exercised by them, limits them and influences them. In essence, power is a social structure rather than a resource or quality of people or a position within a social structure. This social factor influences all components in the society of humans and is still created by them. Just like hegemony, power is all about exercising influence on other groups. International institutions cannot execute any of their functions without power. They depend on power to carry out their activities and as such, power is a significant factor for their existence.

The Role of Institutions in Shaping the International political economy

Basing from this discussion, it is clear that for international institutions to exercise their rule, they must be hegemonic, and must yield some power as well. To this end, both hegemony and power are significant for the international institutions to play any role in international political economy. Even though hegemony is slightly contrasted from power by the fact that it’s based on influence, both of these shape the way international institutions carry out their daily endeavors. Institutions need power to make their social actions possible, and hegemony to have influence over the people whom they are using their power on. There has been several arguments concerning the role of international institutions in shaping the international order. Different schoolers have different opinions of how institutions influence the international political economy. The neo-realists assert that institutions will never be effective fundamentally since they have never prevented states in the international order from engaging in political power wrangles or from being self-interested. Brown and Ainley (2009) observes that institution contain borderline powers which gives way to platforms of power relations among states and in this manner, use them as a reflection of power distribution in the international system.

Martin and Keohane (1995) conversely contest this idea with their concept that the main reason for creating institutions is to respond to interests of states and as such their character is regulated by the dominant distribution of competencies. In contrast, Mearsheimer (2011) argues that the only way institutions promote peace is through manipulation of the member states’ actions. In this light, they campaign for cooperation in an extremely competitive world where states naturally resolve to look down upon others with this excuse. To this end, the neo-realists state how relevant international institutions are since they consider that it doesn’t interfere with the anarchic and self-interested system of many states.

This notion that international institutions do not play any role in international political economy is flawed as the argument that states do not respond to opportunities and constraints offered by these institutions. A great demonstration of this is the regulation of the United Nations Organization (UN) on using military force. All states gladly complied with the requirement due to its advantages and due to the fact that it the cost and risks of conflict. The UN was established with a primary goal to aid states in attaining common goals with the non-invention and sovereignty principles. In this regard, the UN gives the tools for dispute resolution and promotes discussion between conflicting states. In this way, it is logical to conclude that institutions utilize power and influence in shaping the international order.


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