Protean Power: Exploring the Uncertain and Unexpected in World Politics

In This Review

Protean Power: Exploring the Uncertain and Unexpected in World Politics
Edited by Peter J. Katzenstein and Lucia A. Seybert
Cambridge University Press, 2018
382 pp.

International relations scholars have repeatedly found themselves surprised by grand historical upheavals: the Russian Revolution, the end of the Cold War, the 2008 financial crisis, the Arab Spring, Brexit, the election of Donald Trump. In this ambitious book, Katzenstein and Seybert argue that scholars need to rethink their assumptions about knowledge and uncertainty in world politics and equip themselves with new ideas about power and innovation. Theorists tend to see a world in which uncertainty can be reduced to calculable risk. This view of knowledge is like throwing a die: we don’t know what a specific throw will yield, but we do know the probability of each outcome. Katzenstein and Seybert argue that the world is just too complex and contingent for this kind of social inquiry. If the world is seen this way, leaders need to adopt more open-ended and improvisational forms of decision-making—what the authors call “protean power”: “a creatively generated shift in accepted problem-solving that circulates across different sites of political life.”

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