State and State-Society Relations Reviewing Skocpols Bringing the State Back, Nordlingers Taking the State Seriously and Midg






State and State-Society Relations: Reviewing Skocpol’s Bringing the State Back, Nordlinger’s Taking the State Seriously and Midgal’s State in Society Approach

The autonomy of the state is an area of social and political science that has had increased prominence since historical times. Various authors have put forth different ideas and analyses that seek to underscore the concept of state security and the various presumptions that this puts forth. Understanding the position of the state with regard to autonomy is of paramount importance and enables one to appreciate the relationship between the society and the state. In addition, it is critical in evaluating the impact of each party to the other as well as the contribution of each of the welfare and holistic functioning of the other. Essentially, it has been argued that the state enjoys various interrelations that contribute significantly to its holistic welfare. In particular, it comprises of certain groups that participate actively in governance, social structuring and economic production. Notably, the ability of the state to function executively is depended on the sustainability of the relations that it establishes at different levels.

At this point, it can be contended that these relations are fundamental because of their ability to ease the state operations. It should be appreciated that they also include the political aspect that is fundamentally charged with the responsibility of formulating vital decisions. Also worth mentioning is the fact that these decisions play and integral role in according the given state a certain degree of influence that is critical in establishing its identity within the larger social sphere. It is in this consideration that the conception of state autonomy arises. In essence, autonomy can be likened to independence or the ability to act without being influenced by external powers or forces. This is imperative in decision making and enhancement of the identity of the state. From a practical point of view, it is impossible for the given state to operate at this stage, especially with the advent of globalization. More than ever, economies or nations are increasingly depending on other nations for effective functioning. The global economic and social structure further puts significant constraints on complete “independence” as societies participate actively in import and export activities.

It is against this background that this paper provides a critical review of the prepositions that have been put forth by Skocpol, Nordlinger and Midgal with respect to the autonomy of the state and the inherent relationships between the society and the state. In detail, it underscores the controversies surrounding this conception and provides useful insights regarding the existence of an autonomous state. The questions of whether or not the state should be autonomous and the implications of this are clarified in the essay. Further, it responds to the emergent concerns concerning the credibility of studies evaluating state security. Most importantly, it ascertains whether the state is actually autonomous using the conceptions that have been proposed by the three writers.

Skocpol ascertains that the society is complex, comprising of intricate factors and relationships that are essential for its effective functioning. This presumption is also restated by Nordlinger who also affirms the fact that the state is made up of different actors whose contributions affect its holistic functioning. In this regard, it is worth noting that the state comprises of different facets that entail the social, economic, political and cultural amongst others. All these segments have important actors as well as governing policies that seek to enhance the harmonic co existence of the state. Of all this, it is widely agreed that the political facet is the most influential due to the fact that relative policies and laws affect the welfare of other sectors. For instance, the political sphere formulates important and standard laws upon which the social and cultural policies are derived. Thus these other facets can possibly not operate in a sustainable manner without relying in different ways to the political sector. From a social point of view, Skocpol cites that the society is essentially comprised of classes. From this, it is deduced that the social function of the state is essentially to provide the right environment within which class struggle can take place.

Just like Skocpol, Nordlinger ascertains that the politicians play an important role in controlling the functions of the state. Using his society centered approach; he ascertains that the society is a responsive entity that is often manipulated by the decisions of the political segments in the society. The policies that are employed in governance in this regard are not only formulated by the political faction but also implemented and enforced by the same. However, this presumption is liable to argument because of the realization that the population also plays an important role in formulation of goals and objectives of the state. At this point, it should be acknowledged that leaders in democratic countries assume a rational approach during decision making and this process is greatly influenced by the views and perceptions of the populations. This is an emergent trend and increasingly, it is notable that most global countries are assuming the practice. Thus the prepositions of Skocpol and Nordlinger that are generalized can be contested on this ground.

Notably, the characteristic class struggle can have devastating effects on the societal harmony and can compromise the very existence of the society. At this point, the political facet comes in handy to provide essential regulations that limit human behavior and activities. Further, at this local level, it is indicated that states also serve to regulate the societies as well as economies of its populations. Thus as much as an individual or group within the society might want to prosper through economic production; the state regulates the relative activities to ensure that they are in line with the established policies. In this respect, it can be ascertained that the state is primal in enhancing societal order. Further, the fact that the state has control over the populations also gives it significant power and authority over the relationships that these groups of individuals establish and maintain with other states. In this respect, it is certain that he ability to control different activities gives the state a legal and social standing with regard to leadership and authority.

It cannot be disputed that globalization has increasingly compelled various states to liaise with each other in economic production and social growth. The free flow of information and movement of people has made it possible for the different states to establish mutual relations that enable them to benefit from each other in different ways. In order to enhance effective functioning and avoid incidences of conflicts that can stem from diverse views and perceptions, the global community has put in place specific guidelines that seek to regulate the behavior as well as policy formulations of the individual states. Essentially, it is certain that the policy formulation in different countries is usually depended on the priorities of the populations. From an international perspective, the expectations of the global community are also incorporated in the decision making and formulation of policies in order to enable the state to coexist in a harmonic manner with the rest of the global community.

In this respect, it can be argued that the state is inseparable from the society. In his study, Midgal ascertains that these interrelationships are essential for growth and development. According to him, successful control of social behavior of a given state is depended on its ability to align the respective behaviors along the expectations of the entire society. Thus the state is positioned in a web of relationships with the entire society and can therefore not be able to attain complete independence. In other words, it depends to a certain degree on other nations for economic and social sustenance and vice versa. In this consideration, the concept of autonomy is therefore meaningless and the entire society greatly influences the decisions that are made at the state level.

Further, it is agreed by Skocpol and Nordlinger that the state is is autonomous and that it formulates authoritative policies that give it an opportunity to pursue different activities without having to depend on the society. An autonomous state in this regard is defined by its ability to negate the social provisions and overcome the various influences that seek to undermine its ability to attain its goals. This can be contested as it amounts to social deviance that can culminate in far reaching implications

The proposed negation of societal laws and demands culminates in social deviance that puts the given state at a disadvantage. This is particularly common when the dependence of the given state on the global community is relatively high. In this regard, it can be cited that some states have suffered far reaching implications with regard to economic sustenance. This can be attributed to social deviance that makes the global community to use extreme measures against them. The characteristic adverse social and economic implications undermine its ability to develop and maintain its competitiveness within the global sphere. This is another classic illustration that ascertains that state autonomy is apparently unattainable.

Also, Nordlinger cites the importance of financial resources in enhancing state autonomy. In this respect, it is argued that resources influence the decision making process in different ways. To begin with availability of the resources enables the political leaders to formulate vital policies that are employed in decision making and governance. From a practical view point, societies that have access to a wide range of resources usually have an upper hand with regard to governance. Notably, resources are employed as a benchmark with regard to determining the autonomy of the different nations. Those with resources tend to be more independent and hardly depend on other states for sustenance. These are referred to as strong states in light of autonomy by Midgal.

The weak states on the other hand have limited resources and are therefore easily manipulated by their strong counterparts with respect to decision making. Unlike strong states, weak sates have assumed a fragmented approach with regard to resource mobilization and management. As a result, the available limited resources are concentrated amongst the elite in the society. The relative social networks also become fragmented and the inherent relationships increasingly strained as the respective populations do not only lack the financial capacity to participate in governance, but they also lack the impetus to actively participate in formulation of policies and laws that have direct effects on their wellbeing. For this reason, it becomes difficult for such a society to mobilize its social groups and factions in order to fight for its welfare.

Comparatively, the state in society approach that was proposed by Midgal is more ideal than the state centered approach that was proposed by Skocpol. In the latter, it is certain that he society both at the local and international levels control the perceptions of the state. The policies that are made by the society have direct impact on the welfare of the local communities. The fact that the decision making process is not inclusive in this regard makes it difficult for the populations in the latter to benefit from the mode of governance. Basically, the policies and laws are formulated by the politicians who also have access to financial resources that are influential in the process of formulating policies as well as implementing the same.

In this, the financial welfare of the state is also entirely controlled by the external forces and policies that are made by the international community. Likewise, the weak states are not incorporated in the formulation of international policies, regardless of the fact that they influence their welfare in different ways. Yet in order to be able to exist in a harmonic manner, they need to align their policies and laws to the provisions of the international community. Notably, this approach is not sustainable and it undermines the ability of the society to attain the highest degree of justice and fairness.

In the preceding scenario, the states autonomy and ability to perform certain activities is constrained by the external forces. In general, its rights are infringed upon and its activities are altered to suit the interests of the international communities. Regardless of the fact that the respective state formulates individual authoritative policies, their implementation is undermined by the selfish interests of the society.

State in society approach on the other hand can be considered the most ideal because of the intrinsic sustainability that characterizes its implementation. An autonomous state in this respect has been defined by the ability to enjoy authoritative actions that are respected by the entire society. Such a state has significant levels of social influences that enable it to choose the activities that it wishes to pursue. In addition, the activities are chosen at any given time and it is unlikely to receive opposition from the society that could compromise their initiation.

Further, the decision regarding the choice of the activities is all inclusive and incorporates the views of the communities that are affected by these. Of great importance is the fact that the given state enjoys effective social control that makes the implementation of the given policies sustainable. Social control in this regard is defined by not only active participation in the process by the society but also compliance and legitimization of the respective policies. This is undoubtedly typical of a strong state whose decisions are respected within the entire society.

At this juncture, it can be argued that compared to Skocpol and Nordlinger, Midgal provides the most persuasive conception of an autonomous state. However, the existence of such a state is confined to countries that have sufficient financial resources that enable them to influence other state. Strong states in this respect can be accorded the desirable status of autonomy because they can comfortably formulate and implement their policies with ease. In addition, they can manipulate the given conditions to their advantage. The weak states on the other hand are highly disadvantage are can be posited to lack the inherent autonomy. This is due to the fact that they do not only depend on other states for financial resources, but the implementation of their policies is also compromised by the lack of social control.

From a different perspective though, it can also be argued that the fact that the states, regardless of their being weak or strong are not autonomous. This can be illustrated by the fact that they depend to some degree on other states for their sustenance and growth. In this respect, it should be noted that none of the states in the global sphere is self sustaining. This is due to the fact that the distribution of resources in not uniform. Thus states depend on each other to complement their economic wellbeing in different ways. In this regard, even strong states lack vital resources and are in some instances forced to outsource. From this perception, none of the states can be affirmed to be completely autonomous in all ways.

The preceding analysis is likely to attract various criticisms from different parties that are involved both directly and indirectly. To begin with, the argument pertaining to the absolute autonomy of strong states is likely to be brought to the fore. In particular, it could be argued that such states have the capacity to manipulate others in order to have unlimited access to the resources that they require. This is essentially attained through formulation of policies and laws that benefit their interests at the expense of the weak countries. In this regard, it should be appreciated that absolute independence is defined by the ability of the state to cut off all forms of interactions with other countries. The fact that the strong countries would still be interacting with the weak countries in this regard compromise their autonomy.

Then, another form of criticism would be associated with the role of social factions such as the civil society in enhancing the autonomy of the state. Notably, this has not been given utmost attention by the essay and arguably, it is at the center stage of enhancing and upholding social control. In this regard, I would respond by emphasizing the role of the politics and finances as it has been proposed by Nordlinger and Skocpol. Comparatively, these are more influential in enhancing social control than the employment of social groups such as the civil society. However, it would be ascertained that the civil society is also important in enhancing social cohesion as it represents the views of the locals and makes efforts to ensure that these are incorporated in vital decision making. Thus it sets the pace for sustainable development and participation of the local communities in governance.

Also, the role of justice and fairness in relation to autonomy is likely to trigger certain criticisms. In this respect, I would respond by indicating that the inherent idyllic nature of autonomy should also be based on the principles of sustainability. This requires that the needs and preferences of all present and future populations are put in consideration during economic and social development of growth. The failure to incorporate this undermines the credibility of the process as the rights and privileges of certain communities and or populations would be compromised. Hence it follows logically that attainment of an ideal autonomous state requires the consideration of the needs and requirements of other populations including those in weak states. Unfairness and injustice that characterizes the attainment of this state notably compromises its ability to enforce sustainable development.

Further, the centrality of the role of financial resources in attaining autonomy is likely to be questioned. This is particularly possible if the role of the financial resources is perceived individually. A possible example that would be put forth to counter this preposition would be the fact that having financial resources without good governance would probably yield minimal results. In this regard, I would respond by indicating that likewise, lack of good governance is unlikely to enhance financial prosperity. Effective governance in this regard is a prerequisite for any form of financial prosperity and therefore weak countries are unlikely to attain this status altogether. In exceptional instances where they have a chance to attain financial prosperity even with bad governance, the relative resources would be employed in improving the state’s management systems towards attaining autonomous status.

At his juncture, it can be ascertained that the presented arguments have diverse policy implications on both states and the entire international community. To begin with, the issue of sustainability has emerged in the discussion. In this regard, the states and the international community would be required to ensure that the formulation of policies and laws incorporates this concept in order to attain optimal output. This would go a long way in preventing the adverse effects that stem from having a self centered approach to growth and development.

In addition, the respective economies have been challenged to review their internal social relationships if they wish to attain any form of autonomy. As it has come out from the study, social cohesion is essential in enhancing the strength and influence of social groups in policy formulation. It also improves the status of the nation state in the international sphere because then, the implementation of important state policies is encouraged from the local level. Ultimately, it contributes to the development of the given state as even economic and social goals and objectives are attained easily. In this regard, the role of harmonic environments in enhancing growth and development can possibly not be underestimated.

Good governance that is defined by effective formulation of specific policies and laws has also been given utmost attention in the essay. From these, local governments would be obligated to formulate policies and laws that reflect the perceptions and needs of the society. This is important in attaining sustainability as the respective policies and laws would be acknowledged by the local communities. On the other hand, the international community would be obligated to take policies that reflect the needs and preferences of all nations. Likewise, this is imperative in enhancing sustainability and ensuring that the relative laws and policies yield beneficial effects.

Notably, the study has not been conclusive with respect to whether the attainment of autonomy or absolute independence can be attained by states. Future research needs to lay great emphasis on ascertaining the concept of state autonomy and whether this ideal status can be attained by states in a sustainable manner. At present, there are various controversies that are related to the relationship that exists between state autonomy and the reliance of states on others for both social and economic benefits. This would be attained through a critical analysis of the concept of state autonomy and its constituent aspects.

In conclusion, the role of social parties such as the civil society, the military and other administrative factions of the society has not been conclusively evaluated by the essay. In this respect, future research needs to review and clarify the role of each party in state autonomy, if at all this exists. In addition, it should expand its domains to incorporate the advantages of state autonomy as well as the disadvantages of this. This would provide the basement upon which the credibility of the process would be determined.


Erick, Nordlinger. Taking the State Seriously. Cambridge: University Press, 1981.

Joel, Midgal. State in Society Approach. Cambridge: Univesity Press, 2001.

Theda, Skocpol. Bringing the State Back in. Cambridge: University Press, 1985.

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