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‘Rise of the Rest’: as Hype and Reality

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Zarakol, Ayse 


The past decade has been characterised (among other things) by the emergence of a discourse about the ‘Rise of the Rest’. (Some) non-Western states have been described as ‘rising powers’ capable of agency in the international system and as potential partners for the West in global governance. This stands in contrast to a more traditional narrative that saw the non-West primarily as a source of international problems and a developmental project. Does this discursive shift signify a historic reversal in how the non-West understood by the West? The answer is complicated. In this article, I argue that the hype about ‘rising powers’ in Western policy circles following the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-8 had little relation to an ‘objective’ analysis of actual structural shifts in favour of ‘the Rest’ and was more akin to a financial bubble, with speculation driving perceptions of ‘rising powers.’ I also show that the ‘rising powers’ literature is better located within the broader (and long-standing) debate about the decline of the US, and should be read more as a manifestation of American anxieties and hopes than as informing us about the choices or the motivations of the ‘rising powers.’ Ironically, however, the Western hype nevertheless has helped along a structural shift that is under way, first by partly moulding reality in that direction (especially in the form of financial decisions), but more importantly by freeing non-Western powers (for better or worse) from their internalised cages of perceived inferiority and lack of agency in the modern international order.



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International Relations

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