jueves, 31 de mayo de 2012

Soft vs. Social Power

While soft and social power are both getting at a similar idea of furthering an agenda through non-coercive means (which Peter van Ham defines as without the use or threat of military force) the terms themselves carry slightly different implications. It seems that social power is more useful as it can stand on its own, and not in opposition to “hard” power. As hard and soft are so directly related as antonyms, it suggests a dichotomy that is not the case in diplomatic practice. In fact, it is often important for hard and soft, or social, power to work together and complement each other to strengthen an actor’s overall mission. For example, a country’s use of soft power through a good reputation and credibility can provide legitimacy to their military intervention. In addition, the use of the word “soft” in this context is so broad that it loses all substantive meaning and exists only to differentiate an action from that which would be considered “hard” power.

Furthermore, I think that using the term “social” power draws on two particular connotations which are relevant to this discussion. The first that is worth mentioning here is that related to human welfare. Social power is more likely to utilize and find value in intangible resources such as social networks, respect, authenticity, and knowledge. This focus on community and legitimacy is not just applicable to foreign policy-makers, but agents of change in development, as well. However, the term “social power” is obviously not limited to this function. The second and more important connotation in “social” is the emphasis on interactions with others and communication. This aspect of the concept is also reflected in Nye’s “relational power” and Slaughter’s “collaborative power.” The reliance on the cooperation of many players is indicated more clearly in these terms. It can also refer to the control of interactions, communications, and the framing of situations that are such a large and integral part of this kind of power. Broad and yet precise, “social power” is a far more effective term than “soft power.”

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