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The Limits of the State: Beyond Statist Approaches and their Critics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 August 2014

Timothy Mitchell
Affiliation:
New York University

Abstract

The state has always been difficult to define. Its boundary with society appears elusive, porous, and mobile. I argue that this elusiveness should not be overcome by sharper definitions, but explored as a clue to the state's nature. Analysis of the literature shows that neither rejecting the state in favor of such concepts as the political system, nor “bringing it back in,” has dealt with this boundary problem. The former approach founders on it, the latter avoids it by a narrow idealism that construes the state-society distinction as an external relation between subjective and objective entities. A third approach, presented here, can account for both the salience of the state and its elusiveness. Reanalyzing evidence presented by recent theorists, state-society boundaries are shown to be distinctions erected internally, as an aspect of more complex power relations. Their appearance can be historically traced to technical innovations of the modern social order, whereby methods of organization and control internal to the social processes they govern create the effect of a state structure external to those processes.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © American Political Science Association 1991

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