International Relations Normative Power Beyond the Eurocentric Frame
Emilian Kavalski
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 August 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0239


The notion of normative power was originally developed to explain the unique role and agency of the European Union (EU) and it became integral to a broader normative turn in the study of world politics. The concept drew attention to the ideations and influence of norms as the substantive basis of international actors, their identity and agency. The notion of normative power stimulated critical theoretical interrogation and alternative conceptualizations of power and order in the post–Cold War period, but these were rarely expanded beyond the domain defined by the dynamics of European integration and the external relations of the EU. In recent years however there have been several attempts to decenter, (re-)world, and globalize the study of normative power. Such endeavors both recognize and engage non-Western contributions to the study and practice of international relations (IR). On the one hand, such (re-)worlding intends to pluralize disciplinary inquiry by engaging previously excluded alternatives for imagining and doing world politics that have been forged both historically and in contemporary times by scholars, practitioners, and activists. On the other hand, such (re-)worlding offers productive openings for bringing into a meaningful conversation a wider range of cosmologies, power relations, and vulnerabilities than are typically accounted for by the narratives of IR. As such, the (re-)worlding of normative power offers strategies for going beyond its Eurocentric frame both by decolonizing its analytical framework and by widening the set of actors whose international agency it can meaningfully explain and understand. The suggestion is that non-Western normative orders are just as legitimate as Western ones. This assertion recognizes the emergence of alternative and oftentimes contending conceptualizations of political goods in global life and the appropriate way(s) for their attainment. At the same time, the proponents of the study of normative power beyond the Eurocentric frame propose that we are witnessing a “rise of normative powers” in global life—that is, the proliferation of international actors (both state and nonstate) who are not only capable, but also have the right to set the ramifications of the “normal” in global life. As such, normative power is not entirely an intrinsic property of an actor, but a relational quality which depends on the kind of interactions that actors engender in specific contexts and the way such interactions frame the attitudes, dispositions, and behavior of target states. The international role(s) and identity of an actor are not just about capabilities, but mostly about recognition—which is both an outcome and a reassertion of an actor’s normative power. In other words, normative power reflects a particular quality not just of leadership in IR, but of the very nature of power in world affairs—namely, that it is contextually contingent and depends on social recognition within a community. Thus, the study of normative power beyond the Eurocentric frames simultaneously amplifies and analyzes the intrinsic relationality both of global life and of the realms of IR.

General Overviews

This section includes studies that offer a general introduction to the study of normative power beyond the Eurocentric frame. It has to be acknowledged at the outset that despite its centrality to European IR, the notion of normative power has had surprisingly little traction in the study of non-European international actors. There are several reasons for the recent provenance of most studies on normative power beyond the Eurocentric frame. On the one hand, owing to the perceived complexity of the EU, non-European scholars and commentators have been disinterested to engage with the propositions and concepts of European IR. On the other hand, European IR scholars have expanded very little effort to translate the applicability of their terminology to non-EU actors and contexts (both because of the all-pervasive nature of the EU and also because of the positioning of area studies outside of the IR curriculum). At the same time, both European and non-European IR scholars have tended to frame their analyses in reaction to the dominant American IR view, which—instead of aiding—appears to have further hampered engaging with each other. In this respect, there has been some confusion between the notion of normative power and its conceptual sibling “soft power.” At its core, the notion of soft power is about influencing others to support ideas and positions that they did not previously share, while the impact of normative power is more encompassing and goes beyond co-optation—namely, others perceive themselves to be pursuing not somebody else’s goals, but their own. Thus, defining the ramifications of the normal implies a more comprehensive leadership in international life than merely getting others to want the same outcomes as you. Moreover, breaking old dichotomies of hard power versus soft power calls for the introduction of an ideational dimension in the form of normative power. Most of the listed studies engage in a comparative assessment of various actors aspiring to the status of normative power. More often than not, the EU and its normative power Europe are taken either as a point of departure for such comparisons or as the benchmark against which all other normative powers are being measured (Tocci 2008, Kavalski 2012). Such parallel investigations claim that the study of normative power beyond the Eurocentric frame uncovers fresh opportunities for a contextual exploration of the intellectual foundations not only of multipolarity, but also of the proliferation of a cacophony of normative languages in global life (Koga 2010, Manners 2013). Much of the literature on the topic is associated either with the growing prominence of the so-called “emerging powers”—especially, those in Asia (such as China, India, Japan)—or the growing prominence and agency of diverse regional groupings in global politics, especially in the non-Western world (such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations [ASEAN; He 2016, Jetschke and Rüland 2009, Koga 2010], Mercado Común del Sur [MERCOSUR], the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation [SCO; Aris 2009, Kavalski 2010], etc.). In the contexts provided by both emerging powers and regional cooperation initiatives, there are new ways of looking at the content and practices of normative power, including assertions about distinctive approaches, if not “models,” that are not only different from those associated with the EU, but also allegedly more relevant to non-Western experiences. Such endeavors also aspire to bring into dialogue the form and substance of the languages and experiences of the diverse and infinitely complex worlds cohabiting in global life (Onditi 2017). The study of normative power beyond the Eurocentric frames reveals that IR theorizing is not merely about the provision of knowledge (in the sense of a positivistic measuring exercise) but about forming rather than purely informing; it is about the art of living rather than decontextualized and detached abstract thought; and it is about doing ethical considerations in theory and practice.

  • Aris, Stephen. “A New Model of Asian Regionalism: Does the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Have More Potential than ASEAN?” Cambridge Review of International Affairs 22.3 (2009): 451–467.

    DOI: 10.1080/09557570903104040

    This study offers a comparative analysis of the SCO and ASEAN models of regionalism. Despite obvious divergences, it uncovers a shared commitment to flexible normative arrangements as an integral element of their functionality. Framed under the labels of the “Shanghai Spirit” and the “ASEAN Way,” the emphasis on values by both the SCO and ASEAN has assisted the deepening of regional integration and the strengthening of their normative power (in Central Asia and Southeast Asia, respectively).

  • He, Jiajie. “Normative Power in the EU and ASEAN: Why They Diverge.” International Studies Review 18.1 (2016): 92–105.

    DOI: 10.1093/isr/viv028

    The article explores the different roles of the EU’s and ASEAN’s normative power. For the EU, this is the role of engaging smaller (and weaker) states in its periphery; for ASEAN, this is the role of managing great power competition in Southeast Asia. Such comparison suggests that the practices of ASEAN’s normative power may be more relevant to the experience of non-Western contexts, which tend to face great power competition or regional hegemons, or both.

  • Jetschke, Anja, and Jürgen Rüland. “Decoupling Rhetoric and Practice: The Cultural Limits of ASEAN Cooperation.” The Pacific Review 22.2 (2009): 179–203.

    DOI: 10.1080/09512740902815326

    The article details the tendency of ASEAN to act as a normative power. The focus is on the normative change initiated by the organization and the ways in which the ASEAN Way has provided a framework for the socialization of Southeast Asian countries, in particular, and (East) Asian IR, more broadly.

  • Kavalski, Emilian. “Shanghaied into Cooperation: Framing China’s Socialization of Central Asia.” Journal of Asian and African Studies 45.2 (2010): 131–145.

    DOI: 10.1177/0021909609357415

    The article details the nascent normative power of SCO by exploring the susceptibility of Central Asian states to follow its norms and rules. As such, SCO provides a socializing mechanism for the consolidation of a diverse set of contractual arrangements across the Eurasian space. Thus, the international interactions of SCO—and by extension those of other non-Western international actors—not only are underwritten by normative premises, but also predispose them to act in a normative way in world politics.

  • Kavalski, Emilian. Central Asia and the Rise of Normative Powers: Contextualizing the Security Governance of the European Union, China, and India. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012.

    This monograph offers a parallel assessment of the normative powers of the EU, China, and India as evidenced by their interactions with the post-Soviet countries of Central Asia. The study suggests the contextual and relational nature of non-Western normative powers, which differs from the rule-based model of socialization espoused by the EU.

  • Koga, Kei. “The Normative Power of the ‘ASEAN Way’: Potentials, Limitations, and Implications for East Asian Regionalism.” Stanford Journal of East Asian Studies 10.1 (2010): 80–95.

    ASEAN has often been treated as a regional security community of the type exemplified by the EU. The article emphasizes the “ASEAN Way” as the key characteristic of ASEAN’s normative power. In particular, it backstops ASEAN’s ability to proffer a meaningful model for cooperation not only in Southeast Asia, but also in East Asia.

  • Lazarou, Elena. “Brazil and Regional Integration in South America: Lessons from the EU Crisis.” Contexto Internacional 35.2 (2013): 353–385.

    DOI: 10.1590/S0102-85292013000200002

    The article explores the European and South American regional integration initiatives and compares the respective continental normative powers of the EU and MERCOSUR. The claim is that the Eurozone financial crisis has seriously dented the viability of the EU model and has urged South American countries to seek alternative frameworks both for regional cooperation and for normative power.

  • Manners, Ian. “Assessing the Decennial, Reassessing the Global: Understanding European Union Normative Power in Global Politics.” Cooperation and Conflict 48.2 (2013): 304–329.

    DOI: 10.1177/0010836713485389

    Written by the person who coined the term “normative power,” this article takes stock of the state of the art in the study of normative power a decade after its inception. Manners provides a detailed account of the globalization of the concept and practices of normative power and compares the ways in which the term has been taken up for the explanation and understanding of the agency of non-European international actors.

  • Onditi, Francis. “African National Anthems: Normative Power, Land, and Foreign Domination.” In Transnational Land Grabs and Restitution in an Age of the (De-)Militarized New Scramble for Africa. Edited by Tapiwa V. Warikandwa, Artwell Nhemachena, and Oliver Mtapuri, 183–218. Mankon, Cameroon: Langaa, 2017.

    This chapter offers a parallel assessment of the normative power of African actors—a very rare case for the study of normative power beyond the Eurocentric frame. The claim is that such normative power draws on the wisdom and values of African traditions to uncover potentials and opportunities for tackling both regional and global challenges hindering the full and meaningful decolonization of the continent.

  • Tocci, Nathalie, ed. Who Is a Normative Foreign Policy Actor? The European Union and Its Global Partners. Brussels: Center for European Policy Studies, 2008.

    This can be treated as the first detailed account that brings into meaningful conversation various proponents of non-European normative powers. Apart from a thoughtful discussion of the normative power of the EU, the collection outlines the normative power of the United States, Russia, India, and China and their various permutations across different temporal, spatial, and issue areas. The volume also pioneers the comparative study of normative power by outlining a framework for their parallel assessment.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.