Great expectations: The EU's social role as a great power manager

David M. McCourt, Andrew Glencross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Through the case of EU foreign and security policy we reconsider the concept of great power. According to common wisdom, the EU cannot be a great power, whatever the pronouncements of its top officials may be. We argue that ‘great power’ has been miscast in IR theory as a status rather than as a social role, and, consequently, that the EU can indeed be viewed as playing the great power role. Such a conceptual shift moves analytical attention away from questions of what the EU is ‘big’, ‘small’, ‘great’, and so on to what it is expected to do in international politics. We focus on the expectation that great powers engage in the management of the international system, assessing the EU as a great power manager in two senses: First, in the classical sense of ‘great power management’ of Hedley Bull which centers on great powers’ creation of regional spheres of influence and the maintenance of the general balance of power and second, in light of recent corrections to Bull’s approach by Alexander Astrov and others, who suggest great power management has changed toward a logic of governmentality, i.e. ‘conducting the conduct’ of lesser states.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-42
Number of pages26
JournalNew Perspectives
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2019


  • EU foreign policy
  • Great power
  • Great power management
  • International order
  • IR theory
  • Social roles

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Political Science and International Relations


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