Rediscovering Robert Cox: agency and the ideational in critical IPE

My article for the journal Political Perspectives on the value of Robert Cox’s analytical framework for integrating the role of structural and agential, and material and ideational factors in explaining outcomes in political economy.

Robert Cox has been instrumental in the establishment of critical IPE. However, critical IPE is currently failing to fully account for agents in structural change, despite innumerable attempts to provide a synthesis between structural and agential explanations. This is especially problematic given that Cox specifically identifies
structural change as a central concern of critical theory, in distinction from both mainstream IR/IPE and traditional Marxism. This article argues that a reinterpretation of Cox’s work could provide the direction and methodological tools by which agency can be more successfully incorporated into accounts of structural
change by critical IPE theorists. What is rediscovered in Cox’s ‘historical structures’ approach is, essentially, Cox’s concern with ideational phenomena. This article discuss several recent attempts to ‘renew’ critical IPE in light of the structure/agency problem, before showing how the most effective strategy for renewal is actually
situated in IPE’s past. It will then argue that Cox’s legacy is not bound up with the Neo-Gramscian School of critical IPE, given Cox’s distinguishing approach to ideas.

Click here to access the full article.

Image: Joe Shlabotnik