Contested Roles and Domestic Politics: Reflections on Role Theory in Foreign Policy Analysis and IR Theory

Cristian Cantir, Juliet Kaarbo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many of the strengths of research in Foreign Policy Analysis have been overlooked by role theorists. Role theorists often assume that roles are shared across elites and masses, that elites can manipulate masses, or that public opinion on roles constrains elites. Role theorists also tend to assume that there is a consensus among elites over national roles. Research in Foreign Policy Analysis, on the other hand, demonstrates that foreign policy may be contested both vertically (between elites and masses) and horizontally (among elites) and that these conflicts affect foreign policy decision making and foreign policy behavior. We propose that (i) contested roles mean that roles and foreign policy are not as stable as is often implied; (ii) research on contested roles offers Foreign Policy Analysis a less preference-oriented way of conceptualizing policy disagreements and decision making; and (iii) structures reveal themselves as important when agents use them in domestic discourse over contested roles, but the impact of international norm and role structures is not automatic, as it is shaped by the agents (and domestic structures) in the domestic political process. We suggest that research on the strategic use of roles could bring together these benefits of examining contested roles.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-24
JournalForeign Policy Analysis
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2012


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