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Small State Discourses in the International Political Economy

Lee, D and Smith, NJ (2010) Small State Discourses in the International Political Economy. Third World Quarterly, 31 (7). pp. 1091-1105. ISSN 0143-6597


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This article supports growing calls to ‘take small states seriously’ in the international political economy but questions prevailing interpretations that ‘smallness’ entails inherent qualities that create unique constraints on, and opportunities for, small states. Instead, we argue that discourses surrounding the ‘inherent vulnerability’ of small states, especially developing and less-developed states, may produce the very outcomes that are attributed to state size itself. By presenting small states as a ‘problem’ to be ‘solved’, vulnerability discourses divert attention away from the existence of unequal power structures that, far from being the ‘natural’ result of smallness, are in fact contingent and politically contested. The article then explores these themes empirically through discussion of small developing and less-developed states in the Commonwealth and the World Trade Organisation (WTO), considering in particular how smallness has variously been articulated in terms of what small states either cannot or will not do.

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