Is the idea of ‘the state’ still useful?

Presented by Tinashe Jakwa

Monday, 25 February, 2019 - 15:00

This paper seeks to answer the following question: (1) how does the concept of ‘the state’ obfuscate our understandings of the causes of (socio)political instability? The paper critically engages existing literature on ‘the state’ in order to shed light on existing definitions of the concept. It argues that while the concept of ‘the state’ is nebulous and without an actual referent object, statism as a logic socio-political organisation is not only tangible, but is rooted in an untenable notion of legitimacy as exclusive territoriality, which has negative ramifications for political stability in social orders across the world. Thus, the paper examines the presuppositions that underlie statism as a logic of social organisation, highlighting the contradictions therein and the ways in which these reveal statism’s unsuitability for the building of stable social orders. The paper argues that in sustaining the illusion of building an ideal-typical organisational form called ‘the state’, practices of ‘state-building’ simply institutionalise conflict-prone logics of socio-political organisation. Lastly and drawing from insights from political geography, it is recommended that International Relations (IR) theory revise some of its core tenets, taking analysis of the diffusion and institutionalisation of statism and its impact(s) as a point of departure, rather than the study of ‘the state’ as such.
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