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Brazilian Journal of Political Economy

Print version ISSN 0101-3157On-line version ISSN 1809-4538

Rev. Econ. Polit. vol.36 no.1 São Paulo Jan./Mar. 2016 


The concept of emerging power in international politics and economy

O conceito de potência emergente na hierarquia política e econômica internacional




*Professor titular do Departamento de Economia e Relações Internacionais, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, RS - Brasil. E-mail:

**Programa de Pós-Graduação em Estudos Estratégicos Internacionais da Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul e Bolsista da CAPES, Porto Alegre, RS - Brasil. E-mail:

***Programa de Pós-Graduação em Economia da Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, RS - Brasil e Pesquisador do CNPq. E-mail:


This paper aims to analyze the concept of emerging power established to the understanding of international affairs. The work observes that the use of the lexicon emerging - regarding to markets, countries or powers - as qualifier for a range of international relations phenomena became a constituent part of the matter. In spite of that, the empirical denotation of the predicate is ahead of the amount of efforts on its theoretical contextualization. Our methodological hypothesis is that the rational denial of the concepts prevailing connotative spectrum by acknowledging the embedded wisdom about cognate phenomena synthesizes a theoretical framework on its accurate use.

KEYWORDS: emerging powers; regional powers; middle powers; semi-periphery


Este trabalho tem por objetivo analisar o conceito de potências emergentes criado para a compreensão dos assuntos internacionais. O trabalho observa que o emprego do léxico emergentes - em relação aos mercados, países ou poderes - como qualificador para uma gama de fenômenos de relações internacionais tornou-se parte integrante da questão. Apesar disso, a denotação empírica do predicado está à frente da quantidade de esforços em sua contextualização teórica. Nossa hipótese metodológica é que a negação racional dos conceitos predominantes do espectro conotativo, reconhecendo a sabedoria incorporada sobre fenômenos cognatos sintetiza um quadro teórico sobre a sua utilização precisa.

PALAVRAS-CHAVE: potências emergentes; potências regionais; potências médias; pemi-periferia


This paper aims to synthesize the appropriation of the concept of emerging power to the study of international political and economic relations. It starts from the observation that the use of this term as a qualifier of international phenomena makes it a constituent part of the international affairs vernacular. However, the manifold meanings deriving its current usage lack in ordering the principles governing the phenomenon that it denotes. This article targets this gap and aims to contribute for its supplementation. Our methodological hypothesis is that the prevailing connotative spectrum deriving the "travelling and stretching" of the concept of lexicon emerging (Sartori, 1970) in its appropriation to international relations has to be understood through its denial by the embedded theoretical wisdom about cognate phenomena.

This work acknowledges that in post Cold War world, an ongoing discussion on the distribution of power among countries has been raised. In this environment of change in politics and international economics, the predicate emerging develops and is appropriated by the study of international relations. It came from the Wall Street jargon and is therefore built into the classificatory framework of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and other multilateral organizations, without a definitional systematization, being initially exchangeable with the term "developing country". Even though the semantic differences between the adjectives "developing" and "emerging" were very tenuous, the developments in their denotation have given them different meanings.

The Goldman Sachs1 reports redefined the discussion of emerging markets, indicating, among them, those who in fact could perform the hierarchical transition to the centre, from the economic and institutional point of view. Since then, the BRIC acronym bequeaths a stronger political sense to the idea of an emerging actor in a wider sense. The meaning of this adjective is "stretched" beyond the operational term "emerging market" and "travels" to denote these countries that were ascending in the political hierarchies and the international economy. The semantic transformations arising from this process are systematized in a conceptual prototype, presented in the third section of this paper.

In its new political guise, the qualifier emerging as the adnoun "emerging power" conveys the endowed theoretical accumulation about its subject, the rise in international relations. This debate on hierarchical transition of the countries from the intermediate spectrum of power distribution is, however, prior to the current juncture. The categories of middle powers, regional powers and semi-periphery consecrate a literature concerned with these intermediate actors and their possibilities of rise. This debate comprises the theoretical context of the term emerging power as a concept about upward transitions within the hierarchy of international relations.

The conceptual synthesis intended in this article comprises the systematization of the dialect relation between the semantic patterns in the use of lexicon emerging and the theoretical accumulation underlying it. This mutually constitutive opposition is perceived as the theoretical context of semantic transformations undergone by the concept in its appropriation to the literature on international affairs. Epistemologically, this study has a grammatical character, in the sense of (Wittgenstein, 1953), as the search for rules and principles entangled in a lexical field within a limited linguistic context. In this case, the objective is to understand the interaction of the lexicon emerging with its linguistic context, the theoretical accumulation on hierarchical dynamic in politics and international economy.

This paper is developed in four sections. The next section states the guiding methodological hypothesis of this work and discusses the epistemological character of its potential outcomes. In the third section, it is presented the two dialectical moments of the concept: the prototype of an emerging power, deriving the current use of lexicon in referential academic literature; and the main categories comprising the theoretical understanding of rise of intermediate powers. This confrontation will be made through the contextualization of the patterns of use of the concept by its rules of use, allowing its grammatical synthesis, our aimed contribution to make the concept more precise, which takes place in the fourth section.


Treating concepts as such requires a clear delimitation of their epistemological understanding and of what underlies its validity as knowledge. Classically, the concepts have the function to define reality, to differentiate the particular from the general, to define necessary and sufficient conditions to identify a feature of reality (Goertz, 2006, p. 5). This conception, grounded in an Aristotelian essence and appearance dualism, is at the heart of the idea of conceptual "travelling" and "stretching" in (Sartori, 1970).

For (Sartori, 1970), a concept is an abstract construct, belonging to the realm of logics, responsible for the definition of the constitutive elements of a phenomenon, the semantic form of a substantive content. From this arises the notion of "conceptual travelling and stretching", whenever a category is associated to new empirical referents that deform the connotative boundaries. The conceptual "stretching" indicates over-extension2 of a concept, that is, its use to identify cases that are beyond its original attributes. The expansion itself of the denotative spectrum of the category is what Sartori calls conceptual "traveling".

However, part of the literature identifies in these processes a transformation in the concept, but not its deformation. Philosophically supported by the archetype of family resemblances, (Collier and Mahon, 1993) revisit the conceptual "stretching", through the notion of radial category, demonstrating how an expansion of the number of a category's attributes could also increase its number of references, by allowing the creation of subtypes. According to (Rosch and Mervis, 1975) and (Lakoff, 1990), the radial centre of this category is its more prototypical set of attributes, although other combinations are also accepted.

As stated, this notion has epistemological foundation in (Wittgenstein, 1953), whose pragmatic notion of concepts makes its formation synonymous to a theoretical contextualization of patterns comprising its employment in language. The different subtypes components of radial category would be new contexts to apply the same concept, governed by new rules and principles that would redefine its connotative boundaries. The example of the concept of mother3, used to illustrate the archetype of family resemblances, is quite linear for this argument: from the original category (one that conceives, gives birth and creates), derive others, adapted to new social and historical contexts (birth mother, adoptive mother, stepmother, and so forth).

The lexicon emerging went through a similar process, the category "emerging market", used to give credibility to economies that were restructuring their institutions in search of refinancing their debt crises in the 1980s (Pilbeam, 2013), has acquired new meanings as the reality of its referents was transformed. New subjects became part of the predicate emerging, their referents were then identified as countries and emerging powers. With these new meanings, the concept progressively becomes part of the vernacular framework of international relations, as a sign of the change within the hierarchy of its political and economic processes. Therefore, this work studies the impact of the concept's rules of use, endowed in its new theoretical context, on the rules from its use, its semantic patterns.

As part of a historical process, this effort of contextualization bears synergy to Hegelian dialectics. As remarked in (Fonseca, 2014), the "travelling" of the concept and semantic changes of its "stretching" can be interpreted as the reconstruction of the reality in history, revealed through language. Thus, the historical events that have conducted the concept emerging to qualify international political and economic phenomena produced semantic transformations corresponding to them. In the conceptual logic of Hegel, the study of meaning is not in semantics itself, in the abstraction regarding an object, but in the reality "revealed in and through thought or discourse" (Kojève, 2002, p. 421). The following excerpt quotes a referential interpretation of Alexandre (Kojève, 2002, p. 428):

The real concrete (of which we speak) is either the real-revealed-by-discourse and discourse-that-reveals-the-real. Hegel's experience is related neither to the real, nor to the discourse considered in isolation but to their indissoluble unity.

For Hegel, this concrete reality, inseparable from the discourse as knowledge, is revealed initially as identity, as something specific, identical to itself and different from the rest (Kojève, 2002, p. 443). This corresponds to the abstraction (Verstand) of a constitutive element (Moment) of the subject (Gegenstand). The real comprehension of this subject could only be revealed by its constitutive universality. Hence, the forms that the lexicon emerging has acquired in its appropriation to qualify new phenomena is its identity, which is true in itself, but it is not in relation to the reality that exists beyond it: the theoretical context of the rise in the economy and in international politics. Therefore, understanding the concept should be the rational denial of their identity from other ontological aspects of its object (Gegenstand) (Kojève, 2002, p. 444). In other words, the perfect match between the concept (Begriff) and its object (Gegenstand) is not what delimits its boundaries, but is what confronts it, creating a positive and rational synthesis in the process called dialectics (Hegel, 1816).

The rational comprehension of the concept is the synthesis of the contradiction that moves it. However, the idea that there is a conflict between the current definition of a concept and rules of use underlying its theorizing is not restricted to the "Hegelian night" that (Sartori criticizes, 1970, p. 1042). Even (Gerring, 2001, pp. 53-4), a follower of Sartori´s dualism, highlights the need for a dialogue between the resonance of a concept - its conformity with the established usage - and its theoretical ordination, as a way to move away from idiosyncrasies or hermeticism. On the foundation of (Collier and Mahon, 1993), (Wittgenstein, 2009, p. 38) points out the conflicting relationship between the pragmatics of a term (the rules in the use) and its grammaticism (the rules of use), as it has to deal with is the theoretical primacy of a set of meanings over others also present in current usage.

In this sense, the terms in opposition have to be understood as connotative conflicts about the notion of rise, between internal and external ontological aspects of the lexicon emerging, and, on the one hand, the pragmatics of usage in the field and, on the other, the grammar governing the theoretical understanding of its object. So, the rules in the current use of the concept generate a thesis about itself, delimiting a conceptual prototype of an emerging power to be rationally denied. The rational comprehension of its attributes comprises the confrontation with its rules of use, the logic offered by the understanding of the same reality in other predicates for the same subject. These attributes will be sought in other competing categories about an intermediate position in power distribution - middle power, regional power and semi-periphery.

The relationship between the two discursive fields, which generate this dispute, is expressed by its common phenomenal reality: an emerging path, the upward transition of an intermediate actor in the hierarchy among their peers. Those established categories in literature are the antithesis, which allows the concept to be ordered. In turn, the literature which makes use of the term represents the meeting of this theoretical accumulation with a new historicity, positing him as thesis, to be rationally denied. From this mutually constitutive opposition, is synthesized the concept of an emerging power appropriated to its theoretical context.

Procedurally, the work is structured on the reinterpretation of semantic patterns deriving the usage of the predicate emerging by the logic of those competing theoretical categories, to conform a new radial hierarchy (Collier and Levitsky, 1997). The investigation of the concept's rules of use will be driven by the questions: (i) what are actors with intermediate levels of power in international relations, what differentiates them from the central players and the rest? and (ii) what factors are associated with these actors' ascending hierarchical transition? The answer to these questions will synthesize the concept of emerging power and complete the "travelling" and the "stretching" of the lexicon emerging in its appropriation to study international political and economic relations, speculating a connotative a new equilibrium to be reinterpreted for the accurate denotation of further phenomena. It is intended to generate a theoretical framework on an emerging power, the synthesis of a convention on its meaning to allow the ordering of its attributes to understand the reality.


The investigation of the semantic patterns of academic usage of the predicate emerging to qualify international agents provided a conceptual prototype of this class of phenomena. Emerging is usually placed as an attribute of power as a reference to an increasing degree of might of a country in politics and international economy. (Schenoni, 2012, p. 32) tracks the etymology of the term from an analogy with the concept of thrust in physics, as it would mean a change in polarity which brings out new players before submerged by the same structure. However, semantic patterns of the lexicon emerging reveal a broader range of meanings, where behaviour patterns gain relevance.

According to a study4 performed, an emerging power would be the one whose diplomatic behaviour aims to reform or to review the international order, having material support to its claims. This pattern of behaviour is prototypically associated with a non-identity belonging to the status quo of the international order. The prototypical attributes illustrated inFigure 1 identify the thesis that this section seeks to reinterpret.

Source: authors' elaboration.

Figure 1 Logical set of the conceptual prototype comprising the use of the lexicon emerging 

Systematic analyses of those countries which are not determining systemic stability has been a minor issue in the study of international affairs (Sennes, 2003, pp. 16-7). However, the course of history since the second half of the twentieth century has given way to countries whose degree of integration to systemic processes would not allow this taxonomic gap anymore (Lima, 1990, p.7). A specific object of study has been recognized, a group of countries which "[...] are different from World Great Powers, but could not be confused with the mass of small countries [...]" (Sennes, 2003, p. 17). This theoretical approach towards intermediate states has been developed into three categories: semi-periphery, middle powers and regional power. All these three depict distinct dimensions of position and its rupture, conforming an antithesis to the lexicon emerging, which allows us to synthesize it as a concept.

Middle Powers and Intermediate States

Research on Intermediate States or Middle powers have a common understanding that States are disposed in a certain scale of power among nations. Part of this literature (Schneider, Welcher, Woods apud Sennes, 2003, p p16-34; Dupas, 2006) seeks to make up such scales from tangible power. Nevertheless, acknowledging the work (Keohane, 1969), the most conspicuous development of this literature has focused on the particular attitudes, behaviour and strategies of the intermediate position instead of their material foundation.

(Keohane, 1969, p. 295) organises the States as to the degree of influence played in the international system. Middle powers are those who have their influence in international affairs necessarily mediated by alliances and multilateral coalitions, the "system-affecting states". (Lima, 1990) dilutes this segmentation in a continuum between autonomy and vulnerability, where key players are distinguished by having the two at similar doses, in which gains of autonomy would mean a rise.

(Hurrell, 2000) emphasizes the role of historically constructed self-perception, as to their emergence ambitions, in the particularity of a country in its intermediate position. Therefore, foreign policy goals associated with a higher level of systemic influence would be the sign of the upper range of a country from its intermediate position. Still, this perception of influence to (Keohane, 1969, pp. 297, 303-309) is based on the "objective reality" of power a country has. So, it is possible to infer that, in addition to particular strategies and collective action dilemmas (Lima, 1990), changes in the structure of an agent's capabilities, even being external to the analysis, are accepted as the fundament of rise of middle powers. The condition of creating more favourable political decisions in multilateral spheres not only represents a gain of influence itself, but also the possibility of these policies in habilitating new capabilities, and these into new political gains that make a collective strategy the most effective for agents who are not decisive in the international system.

For (Lima, 2007), the formation of a critical mass of interdependent interests would enable the meta-power obtained in coalitions within international regimes to become effective power for systemic projection. (Hurrell, 2000, pp. 5-7) emphasizes the institutions as a space conducive to catalyze the power of intermediaries States, being the loci for horizontal cooperation and vertical bargaining.

Summing up, for this approach of the intermediate position, the identification of countries that fall in the category can, or should, be based on possession of a middle level of resources - usually income level, military capacity and population - but their behaviour is unlikely to be understood as a direct derivation of this material ground. It is the perception and recognition of similar interests and converging identities that transform the distinct range of capabilities in this midway into patterns of behaviour in international politics, as shown in Figure 2. In any case, the approach converges to recognize the degree of autonomy for systemic political action as the criterion which ranks the actors in the international system.

Source: authors' elaboration.

Figure 2 Scale of autonomy for systemic political agency of middle powers 

The causes of upward movements within this range and beyond it concern questions about the determinants of emergence in this category. Figure 3 seeks to organize the perceived causalities in the literature. The upper causal axis of the figure refers to the acknowledgment of a necessary material ground of the position; even though, its causality depends on variables exogenous to this literature, which leaves an explanatory gap. The lower causal axis organizes the strategies suggested by the reviewed authors that enable a greater autonomy for agency in the system. Collective action is perceived as the way to, through the constitution of meta-power from alliances and coalitions, to allow an increase of capabilities and political agency.

Source: authors' elaboration.

Figure 3 Denotation of the rise of middle powers 

Regional Powers

The study of regional powers regards countries that, although do not determine the systemic polarity and project power globally, do this regionally and, in doing so, become necessary to understand the system. A regional power is a category that delimitates the geographically classical notion of international politics, the ability to project power (Nolte, 2010, pp.883). This literature conceives regional powers as actors able to dispute the polarity, the leadership or even constitute hegemony in a particular region. This projection of power can be sustained in the possession of material resources, in the capacity ideational direction or in the effective determination of the behaviour of partners in a region (Flemes, 2007, p. 12; Nolte, 2010, pp.892-894).

(Buzan and Waever, 2003) and (Mearsheimer, 2001) offer the inceptive theoretical frameworks on the determination of a regional power. The first consider that a multipolar international order would make increasingly difficult to project the force globally, turning each country's own regions into the environment where the security dilemmas are most imperious (Buzan and Waever, 2003, pp. 50-56). On the other hand, (Mearsheimer, 2001, pp. 234-238) considers that the restrictions of the "stopping power of water" (pp.114-128) that render the disputes for regional hegemony determinant to the systemic polarity. Figure 4 seeks to illustrate this theoretical definition of the intermediate position in sub-systemic approaches.

Source: authors' elaboration.

Figure 4 Intermediate position of regional powers 

The rise of regional power would be directly associated with the expansion of its range of force projection, for instance, the acquisition of capacity to determine the polarity and the polarization at a systemic level, as the transition from a Regional to a Great Power in Figure 4. The emergence, in these terms, is identified with the build up of a dominant position at the regional level. At least two perspectives are current to explain such domination. On one hand, it is related to the acquisition of real and latent power, in terms of (Mearsheimer, 2001). On other hand, (Buzan and Weaver, 2003) consider the need for recognition of leadership by the other players of the regional context. Figure 5 aims to illustrate the logical determinants of regional hegemony in the reviewed literature.

Source: authors' elaboration.

Figure 5 Theorizing rise for regional powers 

Regional primacy would be determined by the constitution of military capacity in the view of offensive realism, whereas this would be one of the components of recognized leadership highlighted by other approaches. The relation of substitutability5 between the two cases in determining the rise of a rising power may admit illustration of a false consensus. In offensive realism, regional hegemony would be an immediate derivation of the regional military primacy in its classical sense: the possession of operational conditions to prevent any counterbalancing coalition. In constructivist approaches, military might be a necessary component of regional leadership, but it is not the only one.

The regional hegemony6 can also take social form, being underpinned either by ideational persuasion in a soft power strategy of interests concatenation in interstate relations or by an inter-societal binding of interests, both of them progressively lessening relation of alterity (Hurrell, 2007). (Destradi, 2010) develops the concept of regional hegemony as a product of continuing leadership, in which the interests of both leader and followers progressively amalgamate. This strategy, because it is social, is more solid and enduring, but also more complex. (Nolte, 2010) and (Flemes, 2007) describe the construction of a regional regime of collective governance as the most effective strategy towards hegemony. The interpretation of (Gilpin, 2001) is helpful in this stage, once the potential hegemon would have during the consolidation of regional economic integration the conversion of its leadership into hegemony.

In short7, regional powers, by determining the patterns of amity and enmity of several partners in their regional sub-systems are intermediate countries of great relevance for the understanding of international politics. Regional hegemony, as a possibility to convert the regional influence into a global one, would be the prime symptom of the emergence of these actors.


The concept of semi-periphery has its inception in the reinterpretation of the dualistic stratification "centre and periphery", from ECLAC, by (Braudel, 1985) and (Wallerstein, 1974). A common ground for these authors is the interpretation that capitalism has a "texture" of the same kind in the microcosm of social domination and in the macrocosm of relations among states, areas and populations (Braudel, 1985, pp.67-69). The international system is perceived as a World-System8, functionally and geographically stratified by the concentration of capital. As in the microcosm, there would be a theoretical limbo immediate indeterminacy: an intermediate class states or the Semi-periphery.

For (Braudel, 1985) and (Wallerstein, 1974) capitalism places the spaces and their populations in a hierarchical relationship of exploitation and domination. Unequal exchanges process a polarization between the loci of the economic activities that accumulate most, or even all, produced surplus - the organic core - and those that accumulate the minority, or nothing of that surplus - the periphery. Domination is the political power that the core elites have over systemic values and social forces, which ensure its reproduction.

Both (Braudel, 1985, pp. 69, 76-77) and (Wallerstein, 1974, pp. 59-65) admit the existence of an intermediate shady group that combines aspects of centre and periphery. Beyond this original conception, it was (Arrighi, 1998, pp137-253) who ascertained the theoretical determinants of the semi-periphery. For him (1998pp. 137-253), the main cause of this indeterminacy is actually its double determination; the semi-periphery would be defined in the literature either for its particularity in the international division of labour or for its place in the political hierarchy of interstate relations (Arrighi, 1998, pp. 143-145). As a solution, Arrighi sought to isolate the economic determinants of the semi-periphery in the system. This analytical procedure would not mean disregarding political elements in the category, but keeping the focus on the impacts of the capitalist system over the distribution of resources between units rather than deriving the impact of that distribution over the power relations of the system.

For (Arrighi, 1998, p. 149), capital moves throughout space seeking lower competitive pressure activities that enable it to extract extraordinary profits for itself and to pay lower remuneration to other factors of production. This process, situated among territorialized jurisdictions, leads the states to compete for capital by offering the best conditions it requires to develop: physical and human infrastructure along with the legal and institutional security (Arrighi, 1998, p. 155). The development of these capital-intensive activities enables the countries where it takes place to keep improving their condition to attract them. Hence, capital would deal with the cost advantages offered by peripheral areas and the revenue advantages offered by progressively more central areas. The existence of few states capable of offering advantages of revenue and several capable of offering cost advantages enables the centre to retain capital in its jurisdiction. In this sense, semi-periphery would comprise states capable of providing cost advantages over the centre and revenue advantages over the periphery.

The attempt of semi-periphery to increase its concentration of capital intensive activities, with limited conditions to offer revenue advantages, increases the competitive pressure of these activities, moving the capital back to more profitable activities in the centre (Arrighi, 1998 p. 159). This mechanism, the illusion of Semi-periphery's development, is the kernel of systemic rep axial trimodal stratification and its reproduction. The centre, given its capacity to retain capital via revenue advantages, leads the productive innovation, which generates within it a new movement of lower competitive pressure, reactivating its attractiveness for more capital. Given the bargain possibilities in face of the plurality of peripheral states, the capitalist agents can keep the remuneration of cost advantages in a lower threshold, unlike what happens with the very concentred revenue advantages of the centre. So, semi-periphery ends up playing dubious effects on the capital's attractiveness, which ultimately maintain their relative position in the system.

Emergence within this theoretical system would be, as a consequence, the formation of central akin activities at a sufficient level to generate successive surpluses with system to the point its revenue advantages can reproduce themselves in order to keep retaining capital. For (Wallerstein, 1976), the dispute among the semi-peripheral states for new capital from the centre and for peripheral markets to sustain their emulated activities through unequal exchange is the possible way to climb positions in this international hierarchy. Nevertheless, Arrighi, through the mechanisms summarized before, states this move as an exception that proves the rule.

In The Long Twentieth Century, (Arrighi, 1994) recovers the successive concentrations of international system until the Japanese emergence from the outer perimeter of centre towards the dispute of systemic hegemony. For the author, this case would be illustrative to the extent that unilateral capital transfers, politically determined after the Second World War enabled this country to increase its offer of revenue advantages to capital while maintaining low cost advantages. When these cost advantages were exhausted by competitive pressure in leading sectors within the country, it was possible to harness its revenue advantages to the cost advantages of peripheral countries of its region. This combination allowed Japan and East Asia together to retain a progressively greater share of the global productive capital in the last decades.

In this sense, the delimitation of the intermediate position for these authors is the determination of world's trimodal stratification itself. Figure 6 is a reinterpretation of the exposed by (Arrighi, 1998, p. 161) and defines the hierarchical categories of systemic polarity by the amount of capital-intensive activities in its economy. Although the two extremes of this range are ideal, it shows progressive spatial concentration of capital. Semi-periphery would go around the midpoint of this range, with equivalent endowments of economic activities typical to the periphery and the centre.

Source: authors' elaboration.

Figure 6 Intermediate position of semi-periphery 

Emergence in this approach is entangled with the debate on the stability of systemic axial stratification. The rise of a country would ultimately be the transformation of its productive structure towards a composition of predominantly central economic activities. The analyses agree on the perception that the driver of this shift is an increase in the ability to attract and retain capital, as well as to build up surpluses in trade and unequal unilateral transfers with the whole system.

Figure 7 illustrates the emergence in the manner described in the literature. The World-System would be illustrated from Wallerstein categorization, as made of an axis progressively concentrating capital. At the core of diagram is the systemic core, or the pole in a braudelian sense, the small geographical area to confluxes the capital of the system9. From this centre, the World-System is analytically organised by units regarding the capital intensity of their economic activities: the organic core or centre, semi-periphery and the periphery. The unit represents any semi-peripheral country in its positional restriction.

Source: authors' elaboration.

Figure 7 Theorizing rise from semi-periphery 

The unit X' shows the exceptional condition in which the Semi-periphery that can rise in terms of (Arrighi, 1994, 1998) and (Wallerstein, 1976). Whenever a semi-peripheral country sustains surpluses with the whole system, that is, maintaining its cost advantages to capital and constituting revenue advantages comparing to the rest of periphery and semi-periphery, it is performing a virtuous combination that, maintained in the long run, would lead it towards the centre. However, the sustainability of these surpluses is dependent upon the conditions to retain capital, and therefore the innovation, within its jurisdiction. By transposing the perimeter of the centre, this hypothetical unit, now shown as X'', would equalize the terms of its exchanges with the rest of the centre10 and keep the surpluses with the other countries; as well as the capital inflows derived from its disproportionate advantages revenue facing the cost of semi-periphery and periphery. Nevertheless, the exemplary cases of rise in Arrighi11 have mostly internal determinants, which would demand an additional literature on innovation and economic development.


This section aims to generate the synthesis on the conventional understanding of qualifier emerging regarding international political and economic phenomena, in the form of concept of emerging power. In this sense, its conceptual prototype will be reinterpreted by the theoretical accumulation on the emergence of intermediate states. To give parameters to this dialogue, the notion of analytical sectors and levels in (Buzan et al., 1993) - in which regions and institutions are perceived as subsystems that modify attributes of systemic interaction, both political and economic - seems useful. At the end, from the logic deriving this mutual constitutive opposition will be synthesized a new connotative spectrum for the concept of emerging power.

The conceptual prototype arisen from patterns of usage of the lexicon emerging, illustrated in Figure 1, identifies an emerging power as a country with a set of material and ideational attributes along with a specific political behaviour, a reformist or revisionist activism in international order. Claiming protagonism by itself is not sufficient to define the category; it has to be accompanied by one or more of the other material attributes that connote its effectiveness. The specificity of its content is usually marked by not belonging to the hegemonic status quo values.

In the literature on middle powers, the same institutional activism and ideational components are central to their definition, to the extent that their position in the system is determined by its autonomy to impact it. The prototypical behaviour of emerging, thus reinterpreted, would be, in itself and in its ideological foundation, the manifestation of their limitations of autonomy. At the same time, bourgeoning in possession of power over resources, as observed in the discourses about those that emerge nowadays, also impact their perceptions of autonomy to manage foreign affairs, by giving effect to their institutional activism and moving up their goals and policy ambitions in the system.

The specific role of a growth in power over the fundament of the rise of emerging powers relates with the debate in the regional approaches to emergence. For these authors, the emergence is associated to the construction of hegemony at the regional level. (Mearsheimer, 2001) conceives this in identity with military primacy. Therefore, the emergence would be the conversion of latent power, measured by the population and the economic growth, into preponderant military capacity in a regional subsystem, through a process that creates an analytical gap in the analysed literature. In the constructivist approaches, the recognition of these capacities among regional peers, in the form of leadership, is a necessary attribute to the emergence. In this sense, the building up of hegemony would demand a concatenation of interests, through diplomatic interaction towards a regional regime of cooperative governance (Nolte, 2010). Furthermore, (Gilpin, 2001) highlights the need for regional financial, productive and commercial integration in order to effectively bind interests of its regional partners with the ones of the emerging power.

The relevance of regional hegemony in the constitution of the competitiveness of economic activities at the domestic level, in (Gilpin, 2001), is connected with the discussions of emergence of semi-periphery. In this approach, since the dynamics at the systemic level lead to a replication of the relative positions among units, they are the changes at the unit level that determine rise at the end. Emergence of a Semi-Peripheral country would be processed, for (Arrighi, 1998) and (Wallerstein, 1976), by obtaining a certain combination of economic activities that generate surpluses with the whole system, while maintaining cost advantages for capital attraction in comparison to the centre and revenue advantages against the periphery and semi-periphery. This process is related to a greater participation in international economic flows, identified as prototypical attribute of an emerging power in its current use. However, the ability to generate continuous revenue advantages to capital, to the point that alter the structural conditions of capital concentration, has determinants outside that theory. Further work has to be conducted regarding the literature on debate on economic development in general and on competitive innovation in specific.

In general, the analyses agree in perceiving emergence as a product of the domestic transformation with impact on system, by building up military capacity or improving their position in the international division of labour. However, the literature on emerging powers has given greater focus on interactional strategy concerning the rise rather than exploring the determinants of their domestic causes. Figure 8 aims to summarize this logic.

Source: authors' elaboration.

Figure 8 Synthetic logic of emergence in international relations 

As part of a system, unit and subsystem would be impacted by distributive and positional aspects of its structure. However, systemic constraints represent the continuity and reproduction of the structure in the opposite sense of the phenomenon that emergence is, as speculated. Thus, they determine the initial position of the unit and the character of the change therein that characterizes an emerging power. The intermediate position in the political section of the system would be given by the distribution of enforcement capacities among units, manifested in systemic polarity and polarization. In the economic sector, the international division of labour, manifested in the stratification between centre and periphery, constrains the unit to its middle position. Hence, emergence would be the overcome of this position, identified with an improved function in the stratification of the international division of labour or in the distribution of coercive capacity in the system.

Overcoming this position, from the economic point of view, means the creation of a new combination of activities capable of setting up an economic structure closer to the centre. From the political point of view, it is the conversion of latent power into military capacity what explains emergence. In both sections of the system, determinants of emergence at the unit level transcend the reviewed literature and create analytical gaps, to be supplemented by the literature on development and on international strategic studies.

At the same time, as already expressed, there are, among the typical interactional strategies of intermediate actors, those concerning the rise constitution. In the regional approaches, the establishment of hegemony is the sign of rise, which, although subsidized in military capabilities, requires a leadership strategy grounded in the recognition and direction of regional partners. The economic hegemony - the centralization of the region's productive, financial and commercial activities in those developed within the emerging economy - is either a fundament of regional political hegemony as an explanatory component of economic emergence within the unit.

The institutional strategy of rise of middle powers is frequent in various analyses and manifests itself in the ability to produce normative deliberations in the form of meta-power capable of facilitating further acquisition of material resources in the system. This bourgeoning of power over resources, in turn, modifies the goals and political ambitions of foreign policy and produces an even more effective institutional activism. The rise of an emerging power, even if itself not produced in the institutional organisations, has within this a conventional strategy to deal with constraints of intermediate actors' autonomy and to build a normative order more favourable to their emergence.

Thus, the logic of emergence is initially a product of the unit in the system, comprising an internal transformation of its attributes. However, the literature highlights the existence of interactional strategies that habilitate emergence in international politics and economy. The construction of a regional leadership and the concentration of regional economic flows are relevant interactional rise strategies for emerging powers. Similarly, institutional activism in setting up a more favourable normative order is being reported as the conventional strategy of rise in the hierarchy of international politics and economy.

It is worth noting that the theoretical plurality comprising this nominal synthesis of the concept, here accommodated by the landmark (Buzan et al., 1993), has to be further explored in their individualities. Surely, each causal nexus of Figure 8 has an extensive discussion in the literature that should be explored to better understand this phenomenon. This study aims to present a theoretical logic proper to comprehending rise from the harsh asymmetry of the international system, by connecting different theoretical contributions to compound a synthetic understanding which can be ameliorated in future analyses.

Therefore, we sought to expose that emergence has a necessary material fundament. Both in its prototypical conception and in the endowed theoretical categories on rise of intermediate powers, ascension is based on an increase in wealth as a potential to be converted in building political influence. So, the sufficiency of bourgeoning economic resources as an attribute is diluted by the additional need for a determination of the political nature of this rise, whereas its necessity is reaffirmed by latent meaning of the potential inherent in the adjective emerging (Dupas, 2006). However, the establishment of economic activities able to concentrate capital in the emerging unit, on an ongoing basis, would show a theoretically consistent attribute for an emerging power in the analysed literature. Thus, the country's role in the subversion of the international division of labour is a necessary, though insufficient, attribute to connote the phenomenon. Its sufficiency is associated with the conversion of this positional progression to an increase in the conditions to influence politics in the system.

In the conceptual prototype, regional military primacy and the nucleation process of regional integration are substitutable attributes to economic growth by presenting the political manifestation of this growth. In the logic here synthesized, these two attributes are understood as part of a political and/or economic hegemony strategy. Thus, engaging in a regional hegemony, through either a political or economic leadership, is perceived as a conventional attribute of the connotation of an emerging power.

Finally, the emergence can be captured in the process by presenting a common political behaviour of emerging: the institutional activism aimed at setting up a normative order more favourable to its emergence. The reinterpretation of the prototypical behaviour of an emerging power by the theoretical reflection on middle powers explains the necessary effectiveness of institutional strategy to connote a rise, manifested in the progression of the foreign policy goals and ambitions of a country.

In sum, the analysis of literature throughout this work subsidizes the conclusion that an emerging power would be a country that observes a positional improvement in the distribution of global wealth and converts it into political power. This conversion may be perceived ex post, by the acquisition of military capacities, or ex ante, captured during its process, by a regional leadership formation or by the creation of a more favourable normative order. Figure 9 presents a diagram that organises the connotative range of the concept in a radial form. The literature identifies an emerging power with a relative growth in any combination of attributes shown in Figure 9 grey areas. Each of the accepted combinations is a specific dimension of concept in a subtype of the phenomenon, and their joint manifestation expresses its complete case.

Source: authors' elaboration.

Figure: 9 Logical set of attributes for an emerging power in international relations 


This study aimed to synthesize the concept of an emerging power for denotation of international political and economic phenomena. This process of rational comprehension was based on the mutually constitutive opposition between the understanding that literature gives the predicate emerging in its current usage and the endowed categories on the emergence of intermediate actors. This way comprised a dialectical conceptual formation, by opposing the semantic field delimited in lexicon emerging to theoretical alternative understandings of the same phenomenal reality.

These powers' emergence of was perceived as the manifestation of the upward trajectory of an intermediate country towards a more positive structural position than its previous one, reducing differential of influence between its agency and the one of those that determine the system. The inherent potentiality in the concept, as category regarding a transitional process, makes economic rise a necessary attribute for its connotation. Therefore, an emerging power is a country that observes a positional improvement in the distribution and accumulation of global wealth and converts it into political power, as illustrated in Figure 9.

The definition presented here is seen as the synthesis of a convention on the internal logic of the concept of an emerging power, in accordance with the reality of international political and economic relations as expressed in this representative literature. Therefore, this work aims to have contributed to a connotative spectrum of the concept, which can be deployed in specific analyses that allow it to explain particular phenomena of reality. Each logical nexus presented deserves its own particular analytical development, coupled to a delimited theoretical body that confronts the general rationalization produced here. However, it is expected that the establishment of emergence of intermediate countries as a category of understanding of international relations would be conducted by the creative destruction of logical determinants here delimited by new theoretically hierarchical threads. The theoretical depuration of the concept of an emerging power as well as its operationalization to analyse historical reality are understood as the inherent deployments in order to realize the convention that this paper has sought to systematize.


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12JEL Classification: F5; F53; F6.

2(Sartori, 1970, p. 1041) identifies the extension as the number of referents in a given category, while the intension is the set of attributes that determine the membership to this category. Both make up what the author calls the "ladder of generality" of a concept. An over-extension occurs when a concept is deformed to embrace new cases. To better understand the evolution of this discussion see (Sartori, 1970, 1984, pp. 52-53), (Collier and Mahon, 1993) and Goertz (in: Collier and Gerring, 2009).

3For the complete example, see (Lakoff, 1990, pp. 83-84) and (Collier and Mahon, 1993, pp.849-850).

4It has been reviewed the conjuntion of papers wich refers to "emerging countries", "emerging markets" and "emerging powers" in their titles, abstracts and keywords in all journals qualified as A1 or A2 in the Brazilian scale of impact Qualis CAPES. The following works compose this selection: (Jordaan, 2003), (Kang, 2007), (Ikenberry and Wright, 2008), (Zacharia, 2008), (Harte and Jones, 2010), (Silva, 2012), (Benachenchou, 2013), (Visentini, 2013), (Waltz, 1993), (Blázquez and Santiso, 2004), (Weber and Bussell, 2005), (Detomasi, 2006), (Hurrell, 2006), (Macfarlane, 2006), (Tammen, 2006), (Cooper et al., 2007), (Burity, 2008), (Callahan, 2008), (Giaccagila, 2010), (Ikenberry, 2008, 2011), (Kumar, 2008), (Palat, 2008), (Shwengel, 2008), (Beeson and Bell, 2009), (Bell and Feng, 2009), (Barros-Platiau, 2010), (Chin, 2010), (Flemes, 2010), (Lessa, 2010), (Naibin, 2010), (Nel, 2010), (Schirm, 2010), (Stuenkel, 2010), (Claudin, 2011), (Desai and Vreeland, 2011), (Santos, 2011), (Andreasson, 2012), (Golub, 2013), (Gray and Murphy, 2013), (Gratius, 2012), (Hurrell and Segupta, 2012), (Schenoni, 2012), (Cooper and Flemes, 2013), (Hurrell, 2013), (Mittelman, 2013) and (Vanaik, 2013).

5Graphic sign for the idea that some attributes can be substitutable to connote a category (Goertz, 2006, p. 53).

6The debate on hegemony in inernational affairs does not exaustivelly presented in here. For seminal discussion, see (Cox, 1983) and (Lake, 1993).

7Beyond that, there are an upgrowing literature which confonts the presented debate with the diverse reality ofsome regions, focusing on the difficulties in building up of leardership for those assumed regional powers (Malamud, 2011; Buzan, 2008, 2011;Whener, 2014) as well on the conflituous interaciton between regional and global agendas of leadership (Vieira and Alden, 2011; Burges, 2013). No matter how these works have great relevance for the debate on regional and emerging powers, they do not have a theortical generative intention as those anlysed in this section.

8Here the concept of World-System is adopted in terms of (Wallerstein, 1974), in lieu of Braudel's (1985) concept of World-Economy. The option relies on the reasoning exposed by Braudel himself (1985), about the necessarily universal character of the first and spatially delimited of the second.

9Further details in (Braudel, 1985, pp. 68-69).

10Except in recentring cases, see (Braudel, 1985) and (Arrighi, 1994).

11Nominally, the cases of Japan and China (Arrighi, 1994, 2007).

Received: June 11, 2014; Accepted: March 12, 2015

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