In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Status in International Relations

  • Introduction
  • Recent Work on Status Inconsistency
  • Network Approaches to Status
  • Diplomacy and Status
  • Small and Middle Powers
  • Domestic Politics and Status
  • Hierarchy, Prestige, and Humiliation

International Relations Status in International Relations
Jonathan Renshon
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 September 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0254


Scholars from disparate traditions in political science and international relations (IR) agree that status—standing or rank in a hierarchy—is a critical element of international politics. It has three critical attributes—it is positional, perceptual, and social—that combine to make any actor’s status position a function of the higher-order, collective beliefs of a given community of actors. The term is commonly used in two ways. The first refers to status in its most purely positional sense: standing, an actor’s rank or position in a hierarchy. “Status community” is defined as a hierarchy composed of the group of actors that a state perceives itself as being in competition with. “Rank” is one’s ordinal position and is determined by the collective beliefs of members of that community. Status has long been a focus of IR scholars, dating back to (at least) the beginning of the “scientific study of international relations” that developed in the 1960s. Since then, two different strains of work—status inconsistency theory and social identity theory—have provided the basic theoretical scaffolding for much of the empirical research done since then. After the initial wave of research in the 1960s and 1970s, IR scholars seemingly moved on from the subject for a few decades. However, recent years have seen a renaissance in the study of status, with novel work being done across methodological and epistemological boundaries.

Foundational Works

Status has figured prominently in a variety of research programs over the last several decades. Historically, however, the core of this work has drawn from sociology and focused on outcomes related to violent international conflict.

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