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  Traditionally regarded as an area of land (or land and water) with relatively well-defined, internationally recognized, political boundaries. Within this territory resides a people presumed to have an independent political identity, usually referred to as nationalism. This traditional use of the term is perhaps better confined to the notion of a nationstate; another use of the term is common in the literature and refers to the theory of the state.

The nation-state has long been a major focus in political geography. The Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote about the ideal state in the third century  BCE, and its relevance in geography can be found in the writings of Carl Ritter and Friedrich Ratzel in the nineteenth century. The evolution of the nationstate is usually traced through four broad phases: pre-agrarian, agrarian, industrial and post-industrial. In pre-agrarian societies, tribal loyalties predominated. Hunting and gathering bands were typically too small and isolated to allow for, or require, the existence of an independent political institution. In contrast, agrarian societies were mostly state-endowed. The emergence of literacy and a specialized clerical class made possible the centralized organization and storage of records, rules and culture. However, communities remained isolated, and the clerisy could not dominate beyond localized territories.

A crucial transitional phase in this conventional sequence was the absolutist state, in which a single monarchy displaced prior feudal arrangements and decentralized fiefdoms (see feudalism), and created such key precursors of the nation-state as standing armies, uniform tax structures and bureaucracies. Industrial society permitted a specialized division of labour and the emergence of a high culture. In such a complex society, a centralized state agency takes over the roles of socialization, education and authority, commonly rationalizing these functions throughout the national territory. In the post-industrial society, the state has grown to play a dominant role in social relations. A new world political organization is evidenced in the development of supranation-states, based on such things as trade and defence agreements (see common market). Parallel to this, however, has been a series of developments questioning the extent to which a new world organization will be state-dominated, or even organized at all. The activities of non-state economic institutions, ranging in formal legitimacy from transnational corporations to networks of money laundering and narcotics trafficking overseen by assorted transnationalizing criminal organizations, have been undermining the authority of the state while rendering the boundaries of the nation-state ever more porous. In some instances, organized criminal activity has insinuated itself into the state proper by capturing the state apparatus, thus engendering \'gangster nations\'. Simultaneously, growing volumes and ranges of migration have led to a process of widespread diasporization (cf. diaspora), whereby peoples previously associated as \'culturally of\' a given nation-state may now be found with increasing variety in numerous nation-states, and in contact between nation-states. The resulting destabilization of prescribed national culture and bounded nation-state authority plays a significant role in the resurgence of local nationalisms, which have encouraged a splintering of nation-states into smaller units based on sentiments of ethnicity, race or local separatist sentiments. Thus, the vulnerability of the nation-state to numerous transnational forces (see transnationalism) has served to dissolve territorial borders while simultaneously fragmenting the political terrain within, challenging the continued viability of existing nation-states. In the process, border regions once considered marginal to the nation-state are reconstituted as centres of economic and cultural focus, acting not as dividers of distinct national populations but as generators of \'hybrid\' identities and societies.

Needless to say, not all nation-states necessarily develop as a consequence of the four-stage model. Different patterns of nation-state evolution have been observed in, for example, the socialist states of eastern Europe and the military/authoritarian states of South America. Further, given that the very idea of the nationstate in its present form can be seen to have originated in western Europe of the eighteenth century (as in Herder\'s writings), it has been observed that in some locales the present-day system of nation-states is an imposed and ill-fitting alien overlay, most notably for those regions of the world that formed as nationstates (or had the form imposed upon them) during decolonization following the Second World War.

More generally, a theory of the state focuses on the state as a set of institutions for the protection and maintenance of society. These institutions include government, politics, the judiciary, armed forces, etc., and guarantee the reproduction of social relations in a way that is beyond the capability, or commonly the opposition, of any individual or single social group (cf. social reproduction). The theory of the state is driven by a profoundly important question: \'Why is it necessary to constitute in society a separate agency called the state?\' Contemporary discussions of this question usually trace their roots back to Hobbes and Locke, who advanced a vision of human existence as a \'war of all against all\' resulting in lives that could only be \'nasty, brutish and short\' unless sovereignty was invested in the body of an overarching temporal authority. Liberal democrats such as Mill and Bentham elaborated upon these ideas, seeing the state as integral to the maximization of human happiness by overcoming problems of social coordination (see prisoner\'s dilemma; tragedy of the commons) through the establishment and enforcement of a social contract. Later social theorists like Kropotkin, Marx and Weber dissented from these positions, however, by re-envisioning the state as more akin to \'a body of armed men\' largely operating to ensure the perquisites of privileged minorities. Weber, along with Ratzel, was also central to arguments emphasizing the spatial dimension of the state, arguing that it is within a given territory that the state administers power and holds a monopoly on the use of legitimized force. These thinkers have touched on many enduring themes, including the design of a minimalist state, legitimacy and public accountability in a democracy, the potentially repressive nature of state control, and the bureaucratization of the state.

Current analyses of the state typically draw the distinction between state form, state function and state apparatus. The question of form examines how a specific state structure is constituted by, and evolves within, a given social formation. (A capitalist society should, in principle, give rise to a distinctively capitalist state.) The issue of function refers to those activities undertaken in the name of the state; in other words, what the state actually \'does\'. Finally, state apparatus refers to the mechanisms through which these functions are executed.

Liberal political thought isolates four views of the state as: (a) supplier of public goods and services; (b) regulator and facilitator of the economy; (c) social engineer with an agenda of its own; and (d) arbiter between the many groups which compose society (cf. pluralism). Structuralist thought has focused on the links between the state elite and the ruling class. A popular view of the present-day state, which is common to theorists of many persuasions, presents it as a \'crisis-manager\'. According to this perspective, the state acts to contain the political repercussions of the socioeconomic system, operating (in effect) as an input-output mechanism. State outputs consist of administrative decisions taken in the interest of diverse social groups; their inputs are constituent demands and mass loyalty. If the outputs do not satisfy the various constituencies, a \'rationality crisis\' results, in which the state\'s viability is brought into question. This could lead to a \'legitimation crisis\' if mass loyalty to the state is withdrawn. (See also crisis; critical theory.)

The local state is a key instrument of crisis management, as is the trend towards corporatism, involving an institutionalized form of group or class conflict in which formal avenues of conflict and compromise are established and maintained in order to minimize the risk of unpredictable crises. The expansion of the state apparatus has been an important manifestation of contemporary corporatist relations, although recent retreats from the state and its operations have prompted countervailing contractions of the state apparatus.

The theory of the state is of vital importance in the rebirth of political geography. Some analysts question whether we need a theory of the state. Others suggest that at some point in the near future there may not be conventionally understood states left to theorize about. But still others claim that a theory of the state is of fundamental, central significance to a properly constituted political geography. Part of the difficulty in this latter task is the fact that state theory is a highly contested topic of scholarly debate. There are a great many theories of the state, each with a claim to privileged insight within its \'home domain\', but most contemporary theorists recognize the significance of territory/geography in the creation and re-creation of states. (MJD)

Suggested Reading Alford, R.R. and Friedland, R. 1985: Powers of theory: capitalism, the state, and democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press. Brown, Michael P. 1997: Replacing citizenship: AIDS activism and radical democracy. New York: Guilford. Clark, G.L. and Dear, M.J. 1984: State apparatus: structures and language of legitimacy. Boston: Allen and Unwin. Dalby, S. Ó\'Tuathail, G. and Routledge, P., eds, 1997-8: A geopolitics reader. London: Routledge. Gellner, E. 1983: Nations and nationalism. Oxford: Blackwell. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Held, D. et al. 1983: States and societies. New York: New York University Press. Mann, M. 1986: The sources of social power, volume 1: A history of power from the beginning to  A.D. 1760. New York: Cambridge University Press; Ó Tuathail, G. 1996: Critical geopolitics: the politics of writing global space. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Painter, J. 1965: Politics, geography and political geography: a critical perspective. London: Edward Arnold. Taylor, P.J. 1991: Political geography within world-systems analysis. Review, Fernand Brandel Center XIV: 387-402.



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