Sphere of Influence: Definition & Significance

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  • 0:05 What is a Sphere of Influence?
  • 1:54 Types of Spheres of Influence
  • 3:08 Why is a Sphere of…
  • 4:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David White
In this lesson, you will learn the definition of a sphere of influence and gain insight into the significant ways that spheres of influence have impacted social, cultural, and political systems around the world.

What Is a Sphere of Influence?

As anyone who has lived in a very small town can tell you, there are often very few options for grocery stores, restaurants, and entertainment. For example, in some small towns there is only one grocery store, maybe only one within a twenty-mile radius, and depending on where people live in this small town, they might have to drive a long distance just to shop for groceries. The radius from the furthest shoppers to the store is what is known as a sphere of influence, and depending on the context, it can be very important.

A sphere of influence is the region over which a group or institution has power, which is separate from whoever is traditionally in control. This definition might be a little confusing, so let's go back to the grocery store example. The store in question is going to be in a town that is operated by local laws and regulations and governed by elected officials. In a legal or political sense, the store has no power or authority over the town. As the only store for miles around, however, people have very few other choices for groceries, which means that the store possesses a certain amount of influence over the social and cultural systems of the region when it comes to food and some commerce. In the field of political science, that region would be referred to as the sphere of influence.

Although we've been using a grocery store as an example, in most cases the term 'sphere of influence' is used in the context of foreign relations and is generally applied to countries or governments. For example, when British colonists established themselves in New England, they lived under British rule that only extended as far as the borders of the colony and didn't affect the Native peoples that lived in the surrounding areas. This region covered by British rule is a more traditional explanation of a sphere of influence because it represents one country having power and influence over a territorial region of another country or collection of peoples.

Types of Spheres of Influence

Depending on the circumstances, spheres of influence are established either formally or informally. In some cases, the government of a country will enter into a formal agreement with an outside group that gives them a certain degree of power in a foreign territory. For example, since 1994, the West Bank has generally been recognized as a Palestinian territory operating within the borders of Israel. In this case, Palestinian culture has a sphere of influence that extends outward from the West Bank for a number of miles and then stops where they are no longer influential. This would be considered the Palestinian sphere of influence in Israel.

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