Call for essays on military, police and coercive state power

State of Power 2021
04 September 2020

The Transnational Institute (TNI) in the Netherlands is issuing an open call for essays, accessible papers, infographics and artistic collaborations in English or Spanish for its State of Power report to be launched in late March 2021. The focus for our tenth annual edition is on the military, police and coercive state power. (Pitch/abstract deadline: 6 October)

TNI’s annual State of Power reports have, since their launch in 2012, become a must-see reference point for citizens, activists and academics concerned with understanding the nature of power in our globalised world in order to inform struggles for justice. With a mixture of compelling infographics and insightful essays, State of Power has examined dimensions of power (economic, political, social), exposed the key players who control power, and highlighted movements of counter-power seeking to transform our world. Recent State of Power reports have been widely praised for their inspiring essays and brilliant art.

Coercive state power

The unprecedented movement to #defundthepolice has brought a critical debate about the role of a powerful coercive state agency into the mainstream of political discussion. It has raised the question about how they function and whose interests they serve. This long overdue public debate deserves to be widened to examine other agencies of coercive state power: the military, homeland security, prisons and the intelligence agencies.

TNI’s previous State of Power reports have largely focused on corporate power, responding to the trend of ever more concentrated corporate power and the way it has shaped economic policy and had massive social and cultural impacts. Yet alongside the rise of corporations, the last few decades have also seen a significant strengthening of coercive state forces, especially in the wake of 9/11. Military spending has doubled, world prison numbers have increased 24%, and border agencies have grown exponentially. State security forces not only escaped the post 2008 austerity crunch that afflicted nearly every other state agency, they boomed without restraint. The rise of surveillance and data technologies has provided many of these agencies with capacities to monitor and control populations that were inconceivable in the last century.

The growth of these agencies has forged a hegemony in favour of security in the same way that corporations have forged a hegemony in favour of neoliberalism. Without being challenged directly and replaced with a new approach, this will normalise security-based responses to every social and environmental crisis. Given the multiple crises unfolding right now (ecological breakdown, rise of authoritarianism, deepening inequality), this suggests a deeply dystopian road ahead.

Yet like the opaque company reports, knowledge about state coercive agencies is still largely hidden from public scrutiny, or shared with the public in only partial glimpses. It takes the moral courage of whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden to give a bigger sense of what social movements are up against. And even then much of the information tends to disempower rather than guide activist strategies.

We are therefore interested in proposals that approach these issues in creative ways that help deepen understanding and improve social movement strategies. We believe it is critical to have a deep, clear and up-to-date analysis if we are to successfully confront coercive state power. We welcome reflections from different disciplinary fields in order to create as rounded a picture of coercive state power as possible. We are also interested in producing some infographics or artwork that help penetrate the key agencies of coercive state power and our own power to wrest back control.

In sum, our ultimate goal is not analysis for its own sake but rather to empower activists and movements to more successfully challenge, confront and overcome coercive state power that seeks to stop, control or prevent necessary systemic change.

These are some questions – but by no means an exclusive list – that we are interested in exploring and understanding better:

•    How are we to understand the history, trajectory, current state and likely future of coercive state power? How does it differ in countries in the Global North and South?
•    How has US military power changed? What are its strategies in an era of Trump and with the rising power of China? How will they shape the strategies, form and tactics of US imperialism?
•    How does coercive state power relate to the rise of concentrated corporate power and more broadly to capitalism?
•    How are state coercive powers legitimised within society? And how can they be delegitimised?
•    What are the key strategies and policies that shape these coercive state forces?
•    How are we to understand the relationships between different state agencies – military, police, homeland security, intelligence and detention?
•    What is the state of today’s Military Industrial Complex? How do they exercise power? How has the industry changed in times of globalisation, privatisation, data capitalism and financialisation?
•    Who are the key global corporate players in the areas of military/defence, homeland security, incarceration, policing?
•    What transnational structures, systems and bodies are being used to underpin coercive state power?
•    What is the dynamic of interplay between state security and private security? And between state agencies and non-state violent actors?
•    How does geopolitics shape coercive state power? How do the models practiced by China, US, Israel or other countries compare and what influence do they have globally?
•    How has the rise of Big Tech shaped coercive state power? How is it shaping its different agencies?
•    How has policing changed in recent decades? How does it relate to dynamics of globalisation, privatisation, and digitization?
•    How has the border and migration management shaped coercive state power?
•    What are the main dynamics behind the rise in violent repression of environmental activists in the Global South?
•    What are the impacts of the hegemonic power of security culturally?
•    How have social movements most successfully countered state coercive power? What tactics have been successfully used? What can we learn from movements such as Black Lives Matter?
•    What alternatives exist to the military, policing, homeland security, incarceration that reduce or end coercion and return power to people?

As well as analysis, TNI would also be interested in specific case-studies that draw out general lessons as well as stories and artwork and films that help us understand the coercive state power in creative and imaginative ways.

TNI has a small number of grants of 250-500 euros – to be prioritized for activists with low-incomes and/or working in the Global South. Please mention in your submission if you wish to apply for this grant which will be awarded if your essay is published in the main report.

Format and Style

TNI produces its essays in the format of a long-read, illustrated by international artists. We also try to syndicate the pieces to other online magazines to maximise readership. We are therefore looking for pieces written as journalistic long-reads that make information accessible and that can be pitched to other media.

We publish initially in English but often produce a Spanish version of the report too. We accept essays in Spanish or English.

In 2021, we also plan to accompany the essays with a webinar or two for our State of Power series, providing a new way for our audience to engage with the ideas in the essays.

The following are important for making your essay accessible:
    • stories
    • concrete examples
    • metaphors
    • journalistic techniques

We also welcome suggestions of photos, videos, artwork, songs and other ways to illustrate essays. You can see examples of this here. We discourage the overuse of academic jargon literature analysis and academic debates that mean little to the public.

While essays are the main focus of the report, TNI is also open to proposals for artistic explorations that examine the same themes that could accompany and complement the essays. The process will be different for these, so please just email stateofpower AT with any proposals or suggestions.


While TNI is proud of our high standard of scholarship, this call does not require any specific academic qualifications. Contributors to earlier editions of State of Power have included students, professors, well-known authors, journalists, activists and artists - all at different stages of their careers and lives. TNI particularly welcomes submissions by women, young scholars/artists and people based in the Global South.


The final report will be made up of a mixture of essays from this open call and a number of pre-commissioned essays, which will also be packaged into a podcast and webinar(s). We have designed a process to feature what we consider the best essays in the main report. The decision on which papers are featured will be decided by an Editorial Panel made up of the Director and the editors of the report. The selection process will follow three stages:

1. In the first stage, researchers will be asked to send in a
a) pitch for your long-read essay
b) a short bio and
c) some links to previous work. It will help your application if your previous work is not just limited to academic texts but includes some more accessible journalistic pieces.

Pitches should include:

  • the main argument you are trying to make
  • the key points you would include
  • how your essay unpacks and helps us understand power dynamics
  • stories or examples that illustrate it  

The pitch can be based on existing papers or be provisional ideas of what you hope to  explore. If you would like to apply for the grant – available to low-income participants –please indicate this at this stage.

The pitch can be in English or Spanish.

2. Those whose pitches are chosen will be asked to submit an essay. The top 4-5 essays will be selected for the report by the Editorial Panel.

3. The selected essays will go through a final round of revisions based on feedback by the Editorial Panel, and subject to final copyedit. If the essay is in Spanish, it will also be translated into English.

4. Essays that do not make the top eight – and are considered good essays by the Editorial Panel - will be available as downloadable PDFs linked from the main report. Grants unfortunately won’t be available though for the essays that don’t appear in the main report.

Instructions for submission

Pitches must be emailed in English or Spanish to stateofpower AT by 6 October 2020. Full draft essays will be due on 29 January 2021. Approved final essays will go through a process of review and editing.
•    Pitches/essays must focus on power relations, addressing coercive state power from a critical  progressive perspective, seeking to provide useful knowledge and analysis for movements engaged in the struggle for social and environmental justice
•    Pitches/essays can be based on reworked versions of existing or previously published essays/papers or extracts of books but must be made accessible to a non-academic audience
•    TNI particularly welcomes submissions by women, young scholars/artists and people based in the Global South.
•    Pitches and essays can be written in English, Spanish or French.
•    Pitches must be a maximum of 800 words. They do not need to be of continuous prose but must capture the main arguments of the essay and can be expanded outlines. Bios should be 200 words or less.
•    Final Essay length: 3000-5000 words. The upper word limit is strictly applied.
•    Style: TNI has five basic criteria for its research and publications that will also be used to assess the pitches and essays:
-Credible: Well researched and evidence-based
- Accessible: Readable by a broad non-specialist audience (in other words please avoid too much academic jargon) and try to use stories, examples
- Additional: Adds depth, new insights or detail to existing knowledge/research
- Radical: Tackles the structural roots of critical issues
- Propositional: Does not just critique, but also puts forward just alternatives where relevant
•    TNI's styleguide can be found here in English and here in Spanish
•    Do not include references in brackets within the text eg (Abramson, 2011) in the academic style. As we first publish online and then as a printable PDF, please hyperlink the text pointing to the reference AND provide an endnote with the full reference in Harvard style. You may also provide a bibliography at end of essay instead.
•    Please do not overdo it on the endnotes (no more than 40 for each essay) – use it mainly for referring to facts/evidence that may be surprising, questioned or challenged.
•    Please send as .doc file or .docx file or Open/Libre Office equivalent for written texts, pdf for artistic submissions
•    The decision of the Editorial Panel is final. If your pitch or essay is chosen, please be ready to respond to peer reviews and copy editing comments based on the timeline below.


6 October       Submission of pitches
12 October     Pitches approved for submission of full essay
29 January      Submission of full essay
4 February     Decision on whether essay approved for final report or published as PDF
February        Review, second draft, final copyedits
February        Preparation of report; syndication outreach
22-26 March  Publication of essays