State and Society

Posted by: | Posted on: February 15, 2009

State and Society or State in Society

State in society is concurrently under debate among political scientists. At least, there are three different schools who have initially justified their own assumption. Among those perspectives, two extreme conception of finding the distinction of state and society has been in a heated dialogue. Autonomous state and society state should be two different schools in the dialogue. I prefer these two concepts as the basic premise to get a very constructive argument. However, pure society advocates will argue that statist approaches have always regarded state as the key structure and autonomous entity in political science and they will further their reason that state itself should not be existed irrespectively. Timothy Mitchell intuitively divided the argument in an extreme way to distinguish the different between state and society, regardless of autonomous state and society state. In this extreme respect, I see the “autonomous state” is a state that has been organized in the way that state structure or state bureaucracy can play by it own autonomously and at least is has always exploited their own people in that territory. Peter Evans named this kind of state “predatory state” in case study of Zaire country. India and Brazil have shared similar development of bureaucratic structure like Zaire, but it is not common for Evans to call these two developed states as “predatory ones”. These two are more complex and sophisticated than the case of Zaire. In extent to that, the same autonomous state constituted of autonomous bureaucracy like Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, Evans, admitted the empirical success in economic development. He named these three last states as “developmental states”. Are these developmental states autonomous? Are these developmental states in or outside society? How about Zaire, that has been called a “predatory state”, is in or outside society?

While Timothy Michell tried to reflect the extreme approaches of debate on the abandoning of the state, the political scientists concurred that the term “state” itself has been vague, very subjective, unrealistic, unpractical and academically disagreeable. State itself is so skeptical about its implementation if it doesn’t connect to society, state will not exist and it will not possibly implement its policy. State is a very unfavorable for researchers in term of its terminology and practical political breeding. And when it comes to practice, the prestige of the state will be easily lost because of its despotic characteristic in itself and in case of modern state like Zaire, is a good example to the unpopularity of the term “state”. If we look back to history of political movements in the old age, the state didn’t appear. When most territories were organized under the totalitarian leadership such as absolute kings, absolute republicans or absolutely kleptocrats, the state didn’t exist in that time. The state or nation-state in modern age, at least, constitute some key manageable elements and structures such as coherent bureaucrat, intermediate judicial body, embedded public policy, and the rule of law etc. So, Timothy Michell, including Peter Evans and Joel S. Migdal have insistently suggested the middle path theory of the state and society. In their different perspectives but directing the same goal, state and society is interconnected and inseparable social entity. At the end of his article, Timothy Mitchell recommended five new approaches to deal with the controversy of state and society. He suggested that state should not be taken as a free standing entity; the distinction between state and society should nevertheless be taken seriously; subjective view of the state is essentially important for its activities of decision making and policy for the well-being of the people; the state should be addressed as an effect of detailed processes of spatial organization, temporal arrangement, functional specification and supervision and surveillance; and finally the state appears as an abstraction in relation to the concreteness of the social and as a subjective ideality in relation to the objectiveness of the material world.

Peter Evans suggested his two essential analyses in the inseparable state and society by calling it “effective, coherence autonomous, embedded state”. His idea should be regarded as the compromising idea to lead a constructive debate by juxtaposing many case studies different countries which have evolved. More than this, Peter Evans is an honest fan of Weber’s effective bureaucratic structure realism. Joel S. Migdal has extensively illustrated the different evolutions of states in its important relationship to society. He recapitulated the substantial components of society to shape and reshape states such as ethnic conflict, the growing power of judiciaries, and the complex relationship between nation and state.

In conclusion, the different approaches to debate on state and society should not be extreme. State and society is two inseparable social entities. The debate should be elaborately ascended to the key connection that can bring state and society to develop its comprehensive and complimentary interdependency. Predatory state is a good example of showing the incompetent state that cannot link its bureaucratic policy to the needs of the society. Many evidences in case studies like Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Brazil and India have begun their state task at the blink of autonomous bureaucrat and gradually these states have adapted their policy possibly leading to a sound state bureaucratic management. In the meantime, the power of civil societies, communities and individuals have to be incentivized and upgraded in a level that can be complimentary to the adaptation of the state who have always worked as the “guardian of the universal interests”.


Mitchell, Timothy. 1991. “The Limits of the State: Beyond Statist Approaches and Their Critics.The American Political Science Review 85(1): 77-96

Evans, Peter B. 1995. “Embedded Autonomy: States and Industrial Transformation.” Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, Excerpts.

Migdal, Joel S. 2001. “State in Society Studying How States and Societies Transform and Constitute One Another.” Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, Chapter 1, 2, 3.