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3 - STRONG STATES, WEAK STATES: POWER AND ACCOMMODATION

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 September 2012

Joel S. Migdal
Affiliation:
University of Washington
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Summary

Two Images of the State

It has been a generation since decolonization abruptly transformed the world map. But we still do not have a very clear picture of the relationship between politics and social change in former colonies, let alone effective theories to explain why things are as they are. An odd duality, or even contradiction, has marked the social science literature. One portrait gleaned from scholarly works has set politics – especially the state – at center stage, kneading society into new forms and shapes, adapting it to the exigencies created by industrialization or other stimuli. This is the image of the strong state. A second perspective portrays the state as nearly hapless in the swirl of dizzying social changes that have overtaken these societies, changes largely independent of any impetus from the state itself. Some scholars view the dynamics of these changes within the country's borders while others see these uncontrollable forces coming from large powers and the world economy. In both instances, the image is of a weak state.

The word “state” itself, ironically, at first did not figure prominently in either of these two images. In fact, it has become an almost commonplace criticism in recent years that the state was a neglected variable in theories of social and political change for most of the postwar era. That criticism, however, may be somewhat overstated. In third-world studies, at least, one could probably better say that the state was more assumed or taken for granted than neglected during the 1950s and 1960s.

Type
Chapter
Information
State in Society
Studying How States and Societies Transform and Constitute One Another
, pp. 58 - 94
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2001

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