The Graded Agency of Small States

In Harlan Koff, Thomas Kolnberger and Karl Hampel (eds), Agency, Security and Governance of Small States A Global Perspective. Routledge, 2024, pp. 49-62.

If one holds that the distribution of material capabilities defines which states are large and small, one focuses on the overall structural level and defines small states as lacking in overall capabilities. On the other. If, on the other hand, one holds that the distribution of ideational capabilities define which small states, one focuses on specific issue area and hold that states may be small overall, but may still loom large in specific issue areas. The chapter adds two points to this stalemate. First, I draw on Alexander Wendt’s idea that whereas state role identities exist on the level of agency, role structure as such is a feature of common knowledge within the system and so exists on the level of structure. If this is so, then small states may change common knowledge, and so small states are what the states make of them. However, and secondly, I draw on prototype Theory to demonstrate how small states are usually categorized as small and hapless. I conclude that it is possible to boost small state agency, but add the rider that the default reading of small states within the system is that of a state with little or no agency.



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