A role theory approach to middle powers: Making sense of Indonesia’s place in the international system

Cameron Thies, Angguntari C. Sari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Scopus citations


This article provides a conceptual framework for understanding middle powers based on foreign policy role theory. It argues that role theory helps to reconcile existing approaches rooted in functional, behavioural, hierarchical and rhetorical definitions. Role theory has been usefully applied to the study of other statuses, such as major and emerging powers in the international system. This article defines a middle power as a type of status that is supported by auxiliary roles recognized by significant others. Roles which middle powers are expected to perform also provide a relational, social identity approach to classifying middle powers as opposed to one that is purely rhetorical or focused on self-conception of status. This article applies this roles-based framework to the case of Indonesia and finds that Southeast Asia’s largest country qualifies as a middle power, suggesting it may be usefully applied to classify other middle powers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)397-421
Number of pages25
JournalContemporary Southeast Asia
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2018



  • Foreign policy
  • Indonesia
  • Middle power
  • Role theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Development
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations

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