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Sharp Power workshop

Sharp Power workshop

Event Venue:

Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation‚ Deakin University 221 Burwood HighwayBurwood, VIC, 3125, Australia ( Map )

A workshop convened by the GDP research stream and the Polis research network at the Alfred Deakin Institute

Over the past decade, due to technological advancement, technical innovations and the process of globalisation, there has been a visible surge in the transnational activities of political actors. This new environment is proving advantageous to authoritarian regimes, and has encouraged them to engage in transnational activities that challenge and attempt to alter the rule-based global international political and economic system/order, and ultimately make it more conducive to authoritarianism.

Authoritarian regimes such as China, Russia, Iran, and Turkey, have found a variety of ways to make inroads into democracies and the rule-based international order. Using the space created by soft power projections such as cultural activities and self-promotion, they have carried out activities to ‘pierce, penetrate, or perforate’ the democratic settings of the targeted countries or international institutions, utilising state controlled bodies that operate under the guise of soft power projection instruments and organisations. This phenomenon has been conceptualised by Christopher Walker and Jessica Ludwig as “sharp power.”’ Authoritarian regimes have increasingly invested themselves sharp power activities, which often involve invading the open spaces democracies provide for civil society. Examples of sharp power include i) establishing international media outlets that generate content and disseminate information/propaganda; ii) harmful out-reach activities identifying radical groups and capitalising on populist narratives; iii) censoring mechanisms, NGOs and political think-tanks targeting critical voices and political rivals seeking refuge in Western democracies; iv) co-opting commercial companies bidding for foreign state tenders.

These sharp power activities demonstrate how authoritarian regimes are increasingly able to transport their internally deployed authoritarian survival strategies beyond their borders. Moreover, the ability of authoritarian regimes to find ways to subtly guide or control public opinion in foreign democracies is a new phenomenon. Equally, the recent surge in such sharp power activities and lack of effective responses from the Western democracies has demonstrated that democracies are highly vulnerable to such activities. Therefore, we believe that examining the sharp power phenomenon and revealing the strategies utilised by authoritarian regimes to subvert and harm democracies will help raise awareness and assist democratic societies resist sharp power activities.

This workshop invites contributors to consider questions and themes which are not limited to, but including, the following:

  • What are differences between soft and sharp power? Is there an overlap between ‘conservative soft power’ and sharp power?

  • Is authoritarian sharp power a response to Western democracy promotion or a form of ‘autocracy promotion’?

  • Is the proliferation of sharp power influenced by ‘authoritarian learning,’ by the sharing of techniques between regimes or by emulation?

  • What is the relationship of the domestic institutions and repressive strategies of authoritarian regimes to their exercise of sharp power on the international stage?

  • What are the goals of sharp power?

  • What role do populists, the far-right and ethnic diasporas in Western democracies play in the exercise of sharp power? What mechanisms and strategies have authoritarian regimes employed to co-opt them?

  • Has the expansion of sharp power operations in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia contributed to the ‘democratic recession’ during the past decade?

  • What opportunities has authoritarian soft power created for violent extremists, including Islamists and neo-Nazis?

  • Does authoritarian sharp power pose a threat to Australia?

  • How should Western governments and civil society respond to the challenge posed by authoritarian sharp power? What are the most effective ways of monitoring and counteracting sharp power?

We are aiming to submit selected papers as special issue to a Q1 journal in political science and/or international relations.



Please do not hesitate to contact organisers Prof. Ihsan Yilmaz, Deakin University, Melbourne at, and Dr Robert Horvath, La Trobe University, Melbourne at



Deadline – 200 words abstract: 15 September 2021

Deadline – First Drafts of full papers: 30 October 2021

Workshop: 15 November 2021

Special issue submission: 15 December 2021


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