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15th ECPR General Conference, University of Innsbruck

The Frontiers of Competitive Identity: A Role Theoretic Approach

Cameron Thies
Arizona State University
Leslie Wehner
University of Bath

This paper argues that role theory provides the conceptual apparatus to account for the emergence of “competitive identity” in world politics. Roles are one form of identity that states enact based on their own role conceptions and others’ expectations. Some role conceptions are sewn into the constitutive fabric of a state, while others are developed by state leaders in service of some immediate strategic goal. Thus, role theory provides for the possibility of relatively stable role sets that constitute state identity over time, as well as the ability of state leaders to strategically innovate new role conceptions. We demonstrate the feasibility of this approach through an analysis of Chilean state identity in the 1990s, as Chile enacted a “global trader role” consistent with long-standing aspects of its identity, then further moved to adopt the role of an “Asia-Pacificactor” in its pursuit of entrance into APEC.
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