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Strange’s Study of Power in International Political Economy Essay

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Updated: Nov 21st, 2020

Susan Strange was a notable economist, researcher, and scholar who was born in Dorset on the ninth of June in the year of 1923. She obtained her professional education at the London School of Economics (LSE), which made her competent in the sphere of politics and economic strategies. Strange became famous for establishing such discipline as the International Political Economy (IPE). The following paper will discuss and cover Susan Strange’s contribution to the study of power in International Political Economy to evaluate and demonstrate the scholar’s viewpoints and statements as to the given theme.

The Main Concepts of Power in IPE

It would be proper to state that Susan Strange provided her philosophy and clear perception of power in the academic discipline that was mentioned above as IPE. In particular, she managed to outline four dimensions of structural power:

  • security
  • finances
  • production
  • knowledge

Although this theory was not officially recognised and implemented by politicians at first, it had a significant impact on the entire political system and education later (May 1996). Strange’s statements were disregarded until the 1980’s. The scholar’s work was not accepted for an extended period due to the lack of similar analyses of structural power by her colleagues from other parts of the world.

However, the four dimensions mentioned above became very useful and beneficial for governing various organisations (Strange 1996). For instance, several countries’ politicians, presidents of business companies, and other economic structures implemented these theses to make their production processes more efficient.

Nevertheless, individuals who used Strange’s theory to operate their corporations or states made different conclusions that also demonstrated certain disadvantages to improve and elaborate on this study. Moreover, it is essential to understand that every dimension of structural power cannot be neglected as these factors’ roles are equal in particular strategies.

The Meaning of Power in the Security Structure

The meaning of power in the structure of security implies that each side of negotiations or other political events must be treated with deference and is obliged to provide safety to its colleagues. In other words, partners should be aware of any actions that one of them is willing to apply in the nearest future. Susan Strange (1996) claims that every person who follows her suggestions may receive specific privileges and advantages in the society afterward.

The author emphasises that safety is one of the most important qualities in any partnership because it makes every member of collaboration enjoy his or her colleagues’ confidence (Strange 1996). Strange (1996) explains that this theory is based on historical events and outcomes that relate to the international political economy. For instance, the first economic issues that concerned every politician (approximately two hundred years ago) laid in the safety of certain Commonwealths and understanding and accounting accurate values of contemporary currencies and products on various markets (Wyk 2000).

It would be proper to mention that people who occupy governing positions in parliaments are responsible for their nations’ security, rights, and freedoms, which politicians are obliged to deliver to citizens under any circumstances.

Susan Strange does not discuss diverse standards of safety that have to be present during countries’ leaders’ meetings. Instead, the scholar argues that national security stems from proper regulations and adjustments of political power because a plethora of issues in this sphere emerge due to the lack of authorities on the international level (May 1996). Therefore, the general meaning of power in the security structure implies politicians’ abidance by rules that require a particular nation’s safety.

Strange’s Explanation of the Production Structure

In general, Susan Strange (1996) understands and explains the production structure of the International Political Economy, as controlling every item produced and developed in territories of a particular Commonwealth forms the local economic system. Moreover, she claims that it is essential to account and have physical evidence or documentation that contains precise information about an organisation or individual who produces certain items, along with all the technologies implemented in a manufacturing process (Strange 1996).

The scholar stresses that only high-quality country’s production, which remains in public demand for an extended period, might make any Commonwealth rich and independent (May 1996). The only possible method for a state to become wealthy is to trade its products and natural resources with neighbouring countries to gain profit and allocate received finances among the local citizens (Wyk 2000).

Hence, in case of some social group’s weak control over various manufacturing processes, another organisation is likely to take over governing positions and realise its new policies in this sphere (Strange 1996). However, when production strategies change due to hope to improve quality, other significant changes might emerge in a particular structure, as previous policies satisfy old consumers and markets. Moreover, various production changes will have an impact (not necessarily negative) on the international trading and political relationships.

Susan Strange supports Karl Marx’s theory in her statements by saying that enormous differences and financial gaps between social classes have an adverse impact on a country’s economic system. Moreover, this factor might influence various changes in power and related structures (Strange 1996).

However, the quality of production in the territory of one country might lead to competition among governmental institutions and private firms. In such instance, these organisations will fight for their country’s wealth, instead of establishing financial control over its territories (May 1996). Strange (1996) said that approximately two hundred years ago, states were fighting for power to increase their well-being, whereas modern Commonwealths strive to obtain wealth that might allow them to be important in the international community. Although resources’ allocation among citizens of a particular state is regulated by policies of defence and foreign relationships, contemporary politicians prefer focusing on industrial strategies and accurate accounting in the economic sphere.

Strange’s Financial Structure Theory

Strange’s theory about financial structure is an essential aspect of her work because this woman discussed the concepts of power in the sphere of economics for an extended period. She explains her contribution to the study of financial resources by saying that this factor remains fundamental for any stable economy because the absence of money might lead to default, as future investments in a country’s development will be impossible (Strange 1996).

Therefore, no profit can be gained, and all the production processes might run out of primary resources. According to Strange (1996), the financial structure gained its significance within the past three decades and became essential in international relationships, import, and export transactions. Moreover, she says that all the means that politicians should invest in contemporary economies do not specifically present finances. Instead, they ought to invest credits that will be beneficial for a country’s population, will gain more profit in the future, and will raise a state’s value among its competitors (May 1996).

The scholar stresses that money can be earned with the help of various methods and industries, whereas credit policies somewhat differ, as they do not imply items to purchase. Therefore, it becomes much more significant for any developing Commonwealth. She claims that credit is an essential factor that a perspective country has to gain to establish reliable relationships with other states on the world’s financial market.

Susan Strange (1996) says that all the factors discussed above (security, finances, and production) are necessary for regulating a country’s currency and preserving its value. Although credit is usually regulated and invested locally, the power to create it depends on such international financial institutions as banks, ministries, and governments (Strange 1996). However, every currency has its value (nowadays, referred to as exchange rate), and its supremacy or inferiority always defines by markets and products that a particular country sells to its neighbours (May 1996).

Before, politicians did not understand that currencies might have different values. Therefore, all the trading transactions among the various countries were not advantageous to any of them, as they all were losing a certain amount of money.

Nowadays, it is impossible to buy something in the United Kingdom, paying with the currency of Uganda and vice versa. Strange (1996) also blamed the government of the United States of America for using their high position and a stable economic system only for their benefit, instead of helping other countries develop and become independent. However, she claims that conscious leaders and true economists have the power that implies phenomenal abilities to create and regulate their state’s credit.

The Structure of Knowledge

The last component of Susan Strange’s theory is the knowledge structure. She says that there is nothing more valuable in the entire world than knowledge because an educated person can accomplish anything in his or her professional sphere to gain other components (security, finances, and production). “The power derived from knowledge most often stems from consent, rather that coercion, authority being recognised on the basis of a socialised belief system or the status conferred by possessing the knowledge, and with it access or control over the means by which it is stored and communicated” (May 1996, p. 180).

Moreover, she says that the society does not pay much attention to the knowledge structure, as it is disregarded by many politicians, whereas a developing and perspective country should invest its resources in the local educational system. Strange (1996) claims that knowledge is the most powerful method of manipulating various governmental processes for a state’s benefit.


As it is possible to witness from the material discussed above, Susan Strange’s contribution to the study of power in the International Political Economy involves every aspect of governing structure and necessary procedures. Moreover, the scholar has always put the blame on people who were responsible for the economic system of the United Kingdom during the twentieth century (May 1996). She also claimed that British economists did not understand and could not grasp basic models of power and efficient economic strategies (Wyk 2000).

Instead, Strange established her discipline that addressed both economics and politics to make students competent in these spheres, as these pieces of knowledge cannot be separated from each other (Strange 1996). According to Strange, her theory included only necessary explanations, theses, and discussions, whereas other scholars specialised only in one of the fields mentioned above.

Moreover, Susan Strange developed the meaning of exchange rates that was considered by governmental institutions to trade their production on the international market, as some of the countries noticed that their transactions were not profitable and they kept losing finances. However, many Commonwealths started following the strategy that implied buying products from other states cheap and selling them at a higher price inside their country, which influenced such economies’ inabilities to be independent in the future.

The Meaning of Power

Despite all the terms that scholars and professionals developed about politics and power in a government, Susan Strange said that no one apparently understood authentic meanings of these theses (Strange 1996). To prove her viewpoint, she decided to write about proper methods of power perception and understanding of its purposes. To begin, the scholar says that the concept of power is not as easy to grasp as people think. There are two methods to analyse the word of power – epistemological, and semantic (May 1996).

The latter method implied the usage of historical origins and explaining the word’s meaning, whereas in the first case, many people tried to outline public perception of power and its significance to a particular society. However, Strange said that neither of the methods discussed above provided a conscious explanation of the given term. According to Strange, a true political power is a separate phenomenon that cannot be explained as easy as other scholars do because there are so many aspects of this word that it is impossible to summarise all of them in a single sentence.

Strange (1996) claims that the general understanding of political power will always be undefined because professionals from various spheres can describe it differently, and their conclusions might have nothing in common. For instance, a lawyer might discuss political power as an abstract phrase that emphasises the authority of a certain individual or Parliament in general. On the other hand, a philosopher might describe power as an organ of ascendance and stress on its supremacy among other people who are obliged to follow the regulations of an authoritative person.

Therefore, Susan Strange (1996) stressed that there was a plethora of topical literature, but none of notable scientists and writers was competent in providing a conscious meaning of power. The scholar also says that this word might have different connotations in various phrases. After analysing a wide variety of materials related to the explanation of power, Strange identified that many writers referred to it as to a hegemonic obsession (Strange 1996).

However, she argues this term because it shows an improper and neglecting attitude toward a political system of any country. To conclude this paragraph, it would be proper to say that Susan Strange’s contribution to the study of power in the IPE started with her understanding and perception of this term, which was crucial to define for any economist who wished to become significant and useful to the sphere of international relationships and its further development.

The Manifestations of Power

Although there were many methods for people in the head of a country to demonstrate their authorities among regular citizens, Susan Strange decided to discuss the most common case of power manifestations. She says that average populations can witness the presence of power in their daily routine by turning their TV’s on or talking to someone on telephone because all the communication means in the territory of a particular state are controlled by its government to prevent various terrorist acts and other actions that might cause harm to a political system or to some country’s residents (May 1996).

Moreover, if a government decides that a certain book or its author’s ideas are not preferable to be read by a national audience, this piece of literature might be restricted to popularisation in this Commonwealth (Strange 1996). Usually, such books contain some political ideologies that contradict philosophies of the local authorities.

As it was discussed above, various materials can be censored or blurred on TV screens because a government might not want the purposive audience of several official channels to be aware of different governmental secrets.

Moreover, some press resources are controlled by governments due to obvious benefits to a country’s budget (Strange 1996). For instance, if any stable and famous production company will try to offer its services with the help of mass media, politicians might prohibit such action if the offered items are also produced by governmental structures. Otherwise, a country will lose a significant amount of finances, and as a result, home market prices will rise, whereas the national currency’s exchange rate might decrease. To conclude this section, it would be proper to state that Susan Strange’s contribution to the study of power is useful in explanations of the primary purposes of governmental control over mass media and literature.

Insurance Business

As an economist, Susan Strange discusses not only political issues and responsibilities but economical processes inside different countries as well. Therefore, she contributes to the study of insurance businesses in IPE, as this aspect plays a significant role in a country’s economic system and the world’s financial market in general (May 1996). The scholar says that many professionals in this sphere set values of human lives, which influences the financial system of a country by presenting additional resource-consuming market.

Moreover, the scholar claims that insurance business is a useless field, which is intended to cause even more harm to the world’s populations. People who are involved in this market or invest their money in personal safety increase the chance of some undesirable outcomes as they count on their financial support (Strange 1996). Unfortunately, insurance companies do not give any guarantees to ensure their clients’ safety. However, Strange’s contribution to the study of power regarding insurance business makes people aware of fraudulence that they can face and even support due to their poor knowledge of economics.

Criticism of Strange’s Theories and Works

Many scholars and economists who intensively studied multiple works and ideas of Susan Strange claimed that her understanding of the political system was somewhat difficult to analyse because this woman had never worked in Parliament and never occupied a governing position (Wyk 2000). One of the most criticised aspects of her findings was the structure of the knowledge that was previously discussed in this paper.

Many professionals did not agree with Strange’s attempt to make such words as knowledge and information synonymic as all the information related to financial structures could be implemented to gain profits and benefits for a state, whereas knowledge did not have such power but was able to create certain information (Balaam & Dillman 2011, p.67). “Strange attempts to use ‘knowledge’ and ‘information’ as interchangeable terms, and by doing so suggests that the stuff of the knowledge structure is somehow the same as money might be in the financial structure, a resource that can be used” (May 1996, p. 180).

However, other scholars criticise Strange for not giving a precise explanation of what she means under the word of knowledge because sometimes her statements contradict one another due to a reader’s unawareness of the author’s primary thoughts.

Susan Strange’s Brief Biography

It would be proper to discuss personal life and career of Susan Strange to obtain a better understanding of her contribution to the study of power in the International Political Economy. As it was mentioned in the introduction, the scholar obtained her Bachelor’s degree at the London School of Economics. She passed her final exams during World War Two (Balaam & Dillman 2011, p.32). Moreover, this woman had a family that consisted of six children that she took good care of while working for different journals. The first position that Strange happened to occupy was the profession of a financial journalist at The Economist publishing company (Balaam & Dillman 2011, p.32).

Her further career steps brought her to The Observer, where she was obliged to do the same job until the year of 1965. After this work, she started doing her researches at The Royal Institute of International Affairs and earned royalties from developing unordinary economic and political theories. After a certain period, she decided to return to LSE, where she became the first female to occupy the professor’s position. Her academic career ended at the economics department of the University of Warwick. She had a chance to implement and practise the IPE educational program that she developed earlier.

There was not much information about Susan Strange’s personal life available because she tried to promote her ideas, instead of making people discuss her daily routine. However, it was a well-known fact that the scholar was married twice. Nevertheless, she joined the second marriage after having a serious quarrel with her previous husband in the year of 1955. From the first official relationship, she had two children (a son and a daughter). In the year of divorce, she met another man and married him, after which she gave births to four more children.


The main components of the structural power developed by Susan Strange contradict the entire economic system of the United Kingdom. Moreover, the scholar claimed that her theory was more conscious and efficient than her colleagues’ works because she combined such disciplines as politics and economics in a single study. Although this woman never occupied a position in governmental structures, she blamed politicians for unawareness and incompetence in understanding her statements.

Moreover, she did not like that her strategies in the national political system were disregarded. Nevertheless, Strange’s contribution to the study of power in IPE was significant because she explained the meaning of power and what it included in the way no one else did it before. Such approach made many students who happened to study in accordance with her theory realise different aspects of the structural power.

Her conclusions and assumptions were beneficial only for implementation in education as future professionals received a broader philosophical image of power. However, Strange’s works were not intended to please every member of the Parliament. Instead, she wanted to argue her point of view, with the help of which she strove to explain uncertain terms and political processes to people who were not contributed to governmental systems. Therefore, her precise interpretations and expositions of power made education in the sphere of politics more efficient and productive to individuals who face difficulties with grasping certain materials.

Reference List

Balaam, D & Dillman, B 2011, Introduction to international political economy, 5th edn, Pearson, Boston, MA.

May, C 1996, ‘Strange fruit: Susan Strange’s theory of structural power in the international political economy’, Global Society, vol. 10, no. 2, pp.167–189.

Strange, S 1996, The retreat of the state: the diffusion of power in the world economy, University Press, Cambridge.

Wyk, J 2000, International political dynamics, University of South Africa, Muckleneuk.

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