A question of agency: Africa in international politics

Brown, William (2012). A question of agency: Africa in international politics. Third World Quarterly, 33(10) pp. 1889–1908.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/01436597.2012.728322


Over recent years African states have become increasingly prominent actors in high-level international politics. This article makes the case for studying Africa’s international relations from the point of view of agency. The article outlines contemporary contexts within which questions of African agency have come to the fore and argues a need to think conceptually about agency in international politics in a way that accommodates the range of different agencies at work. The article outlines three elements as foundations for the analysis of African agency: first, a conceptualisation of different dimensions of agency; second, a recognition of the importance of sovereignty in differentiating between state, or state-enabled agents and others; and third, a temporally-embedded approach to agency that historicises contemporary agency. Combined, these elements suggest that future work on African agency would be able to engage seriously with the continent’s role in international politics in a way that presents Africa as actor not just acted upon, historical agent not just history’s recipient.

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