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Volume 17, Issue 3 (Oct 2015)


Structural power in comparative political economy: perspectives from policy formulation in Latin America

Tasha Fairfield
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of International Development, London School of Economics, London
  • Email:
Published Online: 2015-07-01 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/bap-2014-0047


Structural power is a critical variable that merits more extensive and more explicit attention in Latin American political economy and in comparative politics more broadly. Assessing structural power in conjunction with its counterpart, instrumental power, can provide strong leverage for explaining variation in policy outcomes that affect business interests. However, structural power must be carefully defined and operationalized in order to capture its core attributes and nuances. This task requires wedding the concept’s “structural” underpinnings with policymakers’ perceptions and anticipated reactions. Moreover, the relationship between structural power and instrumental power must be carefully theorized. While these concepts encompass distinct channels through which business exerts influence, the two types of power may be mutually reinforcing. I argue that business interests shape policy outcomes when either their structural power or their instrumental power is strong, yet business influence will be more extensive and more consistent when structural power and instrumental power are both strong. However, electoral incentives, and more importantly, popular mobilization, can counteract business power. I illustrate these theoretical points with a case study of Chile’s 2014 tax reform proposal, a major policy initiative with important distributive consequences that received international press attention.


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About the article

Corresponding author: Tasha Fairfield, Department of International Development, London School of Economics, London, UK, e-mail:

Published Online: 2015-07-01

Published in Print: 2015-10-01

Citation Information: Business and Politics, ISSN (Online) 1469-3569, ISSN (Print) 1369-5258, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/bap-2014-0047. Export Citation

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Pepper D. Culpepper
Business and Politics, 2015, Volume 17, Number 3

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