I am reading a book where I find some sentences like

... how international actors impact civil wars

... being a 'player' in regional politics

... further study of each of the six actors' policies towards Syria

I'm not familiar with the meaning of "actors" and "player" in this perspective.

How can I understand it clearly?

  • In addition to the answer below, consider also that people who write often take care not to repeat words too much, which would give the impression that they have a poor vocabulary. So there is also the strong possibility that actor/player are used as basically synonyms, without great intent to differentiate between the 2 terms. Sep 4, 2021 at 6:13

3 Answers 3


These terms don't have a specific political meaning. Both player and actor can be used to refer to people, groups or organizations who have some influence in a (political) process or event.

According to Cambridge Business English Dictionary, one of the definitions for player is:

a company, organization, or person that has influence within a particular activity, industry, or type of work:

According to Merriam Webster, actor has the following definition (among others):

one that takes part in any affair : PARTICIPANT

For example, Merriam Webster gives the following example sentence of a political actor:

Benjamin Franklin was a major actor in many of the events leading up to the founding of our nation.

  • 2
    in case it's not clear why: actor = someone who acts = someone who performs actions Sep 2, 2021 at 10:08
  • Whereas a 'player' could just be someone moving pieces (IE, actors) into position. To use chess as a metaphor, the chess players are 'players' but not actors, and the pieces are actors but not 'players'. Sep 2, 2021 at 11:06
  • @Shadur In politics I think there's rarely a distinction. But you could say that in warfare the soldiers are the actors while the officers and politicians giving orders are the players.
    – Barmar
    Sep 2, 2021 at 13:11
  • @barmar Depending on the situation there can be significant overlap. Sep 2, 2021 at 15:08
  • @Shadur And as suggested by the definitions in the answer, in those cases "player" is often used for the actors with more influence.
    – Barmar
    Sep 2, 2021 at 15:14

In political or policy network studies an actor is a primary variable used to measure power and influence based on the number and type of relationships they have with other actors.

The second primary variable is "ties" or "connections."

Often, actor traits (race, gender, ideology, nationality etc.) and structural traits (distribution of ties, tie strength etc.) are used to understand how the people involved in a particular political theatre influence others inside the network.

Methods in network analysis can be either qualitative (close examination of who knows who and why the relationships exist) or quantitative such as counts of ties (degree) or variations of these counts (brokerage, eigenvectors etc.).

Player gets used in game theory studies, to similar effect. Game theory studies typically explore various potential decisions of two or more players in a 'game' (for example, members of a cartel attempting to set a high oil price) and how much they will gain or lose given how each player acts.

In general, 'player' and 'actor' can be exchanged for each other. Network studies sometimes refer to players and game studies sometime refer to actors, although most political scientists like to keep terms consistent where ever possible. They basically mean the same thing, although player implies some form of competition is involved.


Actors and players, in a political context mean more or less the same thing. In fact, players once meant actors. This would seem a little old-fashioned now.

Today, actors tend to be used in more formal amd sober political analysis, day by political scientists or scholars of politics. Whereas playets temd to be used more colloquially, say by political journalists.

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