The explanatory importance of “the state” has been highlighted during the last decade in a variety of comparative and historical studies by social scientists from several disciplines and geographical area specialties. The topics of these studies have ranged from the roles of Latin American states in instituting comprehensive reforms from above to the activities of states in the advanced industrial democracies of Europe, the United States, and Japan in developing social programs and managing economic problems. No explicitly shared research agenda or general theory has tied such diverse studies together, yet they have arrived at complementary arguments and strategies of analysis.
States, or parts of states, have been identified in these studies as taking weighty, autonomous initiatives—going beyond the demands or interests of social groups—to promote social change, manage economic crises, or develop innovative public policies. The administrative and coercive organizations that form the core of any modern state have been identified as the likely generators of autonomous state initiatives and the varying organizational structures and resources of states have been probed in order to explain why and when states pursue their own strategies and goals. Finally, much interest has centered on the differing abilities of states to realize policy goals and a number of concepts and research strategies have been developed to address this issue through case studies and cross-national comparisons focused on state efforts to implement goals in particular policy areas.
The value of recent studies converging on common concerns about states as both actors and organizational structures can best be demonstrated by concrete illustrations from the literature. But, first, it makes sense to underline the paradigmatic reorientation embodied in the phrase “bringing the state back in.”
Society-centered theories of politics and government“The real dynamics of political life could only be discerned by social scientists willing to look at societies and economies, sites of the processes or structures believed to be universally basic to politics and social change.”
Not long ago, the dominant theories and research agendas of the social sciences spoke of anything and everything but “the state.” This was true even—indeed especially—when politics was at issue. Cultural values, socialized personalities, clashing interest groups, conflicting or allying classes, and differentiating social systems—these were supposed to provide sufficient keys both to the political process and to political conflicts. “The state” was an old-fashioned concept, associated with dry and dusty legal–formalist studies of nationally particular constitutional principles. The real dynamics of political life could only be discerned by social scientists willing to look at societies and economies, sites of the processes or structures believed to be universally basic to politics and social change. In place of the state, social scientists conceived of “government” as simply the arena in which social classes, or economic interest groups, or normative social movements contended or allied with one another to influence the making of public policy decisions. Interest centered on the societal “inputs” to government, and on the socioeconomic effects of governmental “outputs.” Government itself was not considered to be an independent actor, and variations in governmental structures were deemed less significant than general functions shared by the political systems of all societies.
Society-centered ways of explaining politics and governmental activities were especially characteristic of the pluralist and structural-functional theories predominant in political science and sociology in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s.1See, for example, David B. Truman, The Governmental Process, 2nd ed. (New York: Knopf, 1971; originally 1951); and the series of books on political development written under the auspices of the Council’s Committee on Comparative Politics (1954–1972), published by the Princeton University Press. Yet even when rebellious “neo-Marxists” began to theorize about “the capitalist state,” they too emphasized the social functions of the state as an arena for class struggles and as an instrument of class rule.2For some examples of recent neo-Marxist theorizing on the capitalist state, see Nicos Poulantzas, Political Power and Social Classes, trans. Timothy O’Hagen (London: New Left Books, 1973); Claus Offe, “Structural Problems of the Capitalist State,” in German Political Studies, ed. Klaus von Beyme, vol. 1 (Sage, 1974); Göran Therborn, What Does the Ruling Class Do When It Rules? (London: New Left Books, 1978); and Erik Olin Wright, Class, Crisis, and the State (London: New Left Books, 1978). Indeed, the reluctance of pluralists and structural–functionalists to speak of states, and the near-unwillingness of even most neo-Marxists to grant autonomous substance to states, resonates with proclivities present from the start in the modern social sciences. These sciences emerged along with the industrial and democratic revolutions of Western Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Their founding theorists quite understandably perceived the locus of societal dynamics to be located not in outmoded monarchical and aristocratic states but in civil society, variously understood as “the market,” “the industrial division of labor,” or “class relations.” Founding theorists as politically opposed as Herbert Spencer and Karl Marx (who now, not entirely inappropriately, lie just across a lane from one another in Highgate Cemetery, London) agreed that industrial capitalism was triumphing over the military and territorial rivalries of states. For both of these theorists, nineteenth century British socioeconomic developments presaged the future for all countries—and for the world as a whole.
Focusing on Britain and the United States
As world history moved—via colonial conquests, two world wars, and various state-building revolutions and anticolonial movements—from the Pax Britannica of the nineteenth century to the Pax Americana of the period after World War II, the Western social sciences managed to keep their eyes averted from the explanatory centrality of states as potent and autonomous organizational actors: It was not that such phenomena as political authoritarianism or totalitarianism were ignored—just that the preferred theoretical explanations were always in terms of economic backwardness or the unfortunate persistence of non-Western “traditional” values. As long as capitalist and liberal Britain, and then capitalist and liberal America, could plausibly be seen as the unchallengeable “lead societies,” the Western social sciences could manage the feat of downplaying the explanatory centrality of states in their major theoretical paradigms. For the dominant social science paradigms were riveted on understanding modernization—its causes and direction. And in Britain and America—the “most modern” societies—industrialization seemed to be spontaneous, socioeconomic and cultural processes appeared to be the primary loci of change, and the decisions of governmental legislative bodies were apparently the basic stuff of politics.“It is probably not surprising that, at this juncture, it became theoretically fashionable to begin to speak of ‘the state’ as an actor and as a society-shaping institutional structure.”
But by the 1970s, both Britain and the United States were unmistakably becoming beleaguered industrial economies in a world of competitive national states. It is probably not surprising that, at this juncture, it became theoretically fashionable to begin to speak of “the state” as an actor and as a society-shaping institutional structure. Indeed, social scientists are now willing to offer state-centered arguments about Britain and the United States themselves. Fittingly, many of these new arguments stress ways in which state actions and structures have distinctively shaped British and American national economic development and international economic policies. And some of them also ponder how the British and American states might fetter or facilitate current efforts at industrial regeneration in these countries.3For some suggestive brief treatments, see the articles by Stephen Krasner in Stephen Blank in Peter Katzenstein, eds., Between Power and Plenty: Foreign Economic Policies of Advanced Industrial States (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978); Andrew Martin, “Political Constraints on Economic Strategies in Advanced Industrial Societies,” Comparative Political Studies 10, no. 3 (October 1977): 323–354; and Paul M. Sacks “State Structure and the Asymmetrical Society: An Approach to Public Policy in Britain,” Comparative Politics 12, no. 3 (April 1980): 349–376. In short, especially now that Britain and the United States seem much more like particular state–societies in an uncertain, competitive, and interdependent world of many such entities, a paradigmatic shift seems to be under way in the social sciences, a shift that involves a fundamental rethinking of the role of states in relation to societies and economies.
Revival of a Continental European perspective
In the nineteenth century, social theorists oriented to the realities of social change on the European Continent refused to accept the deemphasis of the state characteristic of those founders of the modern social sciences who centered their thinking on Britain. German scholars, especially, insisted upon the institutional reality of the state and its continuing impact upon and within civil society. Now that comparative social scientists are similarly reemphasizing the importance of states, it is perhaps not surprising that there is renewed reliance upon the basic understanding of “the state” passed down to contemporary scholarship through the widely known writings of such major German scholars as Max Weber and Otto Hintze.4See Max Weber, Economy and Society, eds. Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich (New York: Bedminister Press, 1968, originally 1922), Volume 2, Chapter 9, and Volume 3, Chapters 10–13; and The Historical Essays of Otto Hintze, ed. Felix Gilbert (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975, originally 1897–1932).
Max Weber argued that states are compulsory associations claiming control over territories and the people within them. Administrative, legal, and coercive organizations are the core of any state. These organizations are variably structured in different countries, and they may be embedded in one sort or another of a constitutional–representative system of parliamentary decision making and electoral contests for key executive and legislative posts. Nevertheless, as Alfred Stepan nicely puts it in a formulation that captures the biting edge of the Weberian perspective: “The state must be considered as more than the ‘government.’ It is the continuous administrative, legal, bureaucratic and coercive systems that attempt not only to structure relationships between civil society and public authority in a polity but also to structure many crucial relationships within civil society as well.”5Alfred Stepan, The State and Society: Peru in Comparative Perspective (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978), xii. Moreover, as Otto Hintze demonstrated, thinking of states as organizations controlling territories leads us away from positing basic features common to all polities and leads us toward consideration of the varying ways in which state structures and actions are conditioned by historically changing transnational environments. These environments impinge upon individual states through geopolitical patterns of interstate domination and competition, through the communication of ideas and models of public policy, and through world-economic patterns of trade, division of productive activities, investment flows, and international finance. States necessarily stand at the intersections between domestic sociopolitical orders and the transnational structures within which they must maneuver for survival or advantage in relation to other states. The modern state as we know it, and as Weber and Hintze conceptualized it, has always been, since its birth in European history, part of a system of competing states.
States as autonomous actors
States conceived as organizations controlling territories and people may formulate and pursue goals that are not simply reflective of the demands or interests of social groups, classes, or society. This is what is usually meant by “state autonomy.” Unless such independent goal formulation can be demonstrated and explained, there is little need to talk about states as important actors. In recent comparative-historical scholarship on different kinds of topics in separate parts of the world, collectivities of state officials are shown formulating and pursuing their own goals. Their efforts, moreover, are related to the order-keeping concerns of states, and to the linkages of states into international systems of communication and competition.
Reformist military coups in Latin America“The military professionals used state power to stave off or deflect threats to national order from subordinate classes and groups.”
An unusually comprehensive kind of autonomous state action is analyzed in Alfred Stepan’s book, The State and Society: Peru in Comparative Perspective, which offers a causal explanation of attempts by state elites in Latin America to install “inclusionary” or “exclusionary” corporatist regimes.6Stepan, The State and Society, chap. 3–4. See also Alfred Stepan, “The New Professionalism of Internal Warfare and Military Role Expansion,” in Authoritarian Brazil, ed. Alfred Stepan (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973), 47–65. A key element in Stepan’s explanation is the formation of a strategically located cadre of officials holding great power inside and through existing state organizations, and also enjoying a unified sense of ideological purpose about the desirability of using state intervention to ensure political order and promote national economic development. To account for Brazil’s “exclusionary” corporatist coup in 1964 and for Peru’s “inclusionary” corporatist coup in 1968, Stepan stresses the prior socialization of what he calls “new military professionals.” These were career military officers who, together, passed through training schools that taught techniques and ideas of national economic planning and counterinsurgency, along with “traditional” military skills. Such new military professionals then installed corporatist regimes in response to perceived crises of political order and of national economic development. The military professionals used state power to stave off or deflect threats to national order from subordinate classes and groups. They also used state power to implement socioeconomic reforms or plans for further national industrialization—something they saw as a basic requisite for their country’s improved international standing.
Civil bureaucrats and European social policies
If Stepan deals with extraordinary instances of state autonomy, in which nonconstitutionally-ruling strategic elites have used the state as a whole to redirect and restructure society and politics, other scholars have teased out more circumscribed instances of state autonomy in the histories of public policy making in liberal-democratic, constitutionalist polities. For example, Hugh Heclo’s Modern Social Politics in Britain and Sweden provides an intricate comparative-historical account of the long-term development of unemployment insurance and policies of old-age assistance in these two nations.7Hugh Heclo, Modern Social Politics in Britain and Sweden (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974). Without being explicitly presented as such, Heclo’s book is about autonomous state contributions to social policy making. The autonomous state actions Heclo highlights are not all acts of coercion or domination; they are, instead, the intellectual activities of civil service administrators engaged in diagnosing societal problems and framing policy alternatives to deal with them. According to Heclo, civil service administrators in both Britain and Sweden have consistently and substantively made more important contributions to social policy development than have political parties or interest groups. Socioeconomic conditions, especially crises, have stimulated only sporadic demands from parties and interest groups, he argues. It has been civil servants, drawing upon “administrative resources of information, analysis, and expertise,” who have framed the terms of new policy elaborations as “corrective(s) less to social conditions as such and more to the perceived failings of previous policy” in terms of “the government bureaucracy’s own conception of what it has been doing.”8Heclo, Modern Social Politics, 305–06, 303. Heclo’s evidence also reveals that the autonomous bureaucratic shaping of social policy has been greater in Sweden than in Britain. Sweden’s premodern, centralized bureaucratic state was, from the start of industrialization and prior to the full liberalization and democratization of national politics, in a position to take the initiative in diagnosing social problems and proposing universalistic solutions.
Heclo says much less than he might about the influences shaping the timing and content of distinctive state initiatives. But he does present evidence of the sensitivity of civil administrators to the requisites for maintaining social and political order in the face of cycles of industrial unemployment. And he also points to the constant awareness of administrators of foreign precedents and models of social policy. Heclo demonstrates, above all, that well-institutionalized collectivities of administrative officials can have pervasive direct and indirect effects on the content and development of major government policies. He shows how to locate and analyze autonomous state contributions to “normal” politics.
Can states achieve their goals?
Some comparative-historical scholars have not only investigated the underpinnings of autonomous state actions but have also tackled the still more challenging task of explaining the varying capacities of states to implement their policies. Of course, the explanation of such capacities is not entirely separable from the explanation of autonomous goal formulation by states, because state officials are most likely to try to do things that plausibly seem feasible. Nevertheless, not infrequently states pursue goals (whether their own, or those pressed upon them by powerful social groups) that are beyond their reach. Thus, the capacities of states to implement strategies and policies deserve close analysis.“The best situation for the state may be a regular flow of elite university graduates—including many with sophisticated technical training—into official careers that are of such high status as to keep the most ambitious and successful from moving on to posts outside the state.”
A stable administrative–military control of a given territory is a precondition for any state’s ability to implement policies. Beyond this, loyal and skilled officials and plentiful financial resources are basic factors relevant to state effectiveness in attaining all sorts of goals. Not surprisingly, histories of state building zero in on exactly these universal sinews of state power.9See, for examples: Charles Tilly, ed., The Formation of National States in Western Europe (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1975); Michael Mann, “State and Society, 1130–1815: An Analysis of English State Finances,” in Political Power and Social Theory, ed. Maurice Zeitlin (A Research Annual), vol. 1 (Greenwich, Connecticut: JAI Press, 1980), 165–208; and Stephen Skowronek, Building a New American State: The Expansion of National Administrative Capacities, 1877–1920 (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982). It is clear that certain of these resources come to be rooted in institutional relationships that are slow to change and relatively impervious to short-term manipulations. For example: Do state offices attract and retain career-oriented incumbents with a wide array of skills and keen motivation? The answer may well depend upon historically evolved relationships among elite educational institutions, state organizations, and private enterprises that compete with the state for educated personnel. The best situation for the state may be a regular flow of elite university graduates—including many with sophisticated technical training—into official careers that are of such high status as to keep the most ambitious and successful from moving on to posts outside the state. But if this situation has not been historically established by the start of the industrial era, it is difficult indeed to undo alternative patterns that are less favorable to the state.
Finances as “the nerves of the state”
Factors determining a state’s financial resources may sometimes be more manipulable over time. The amounts and forms of revenues and credit available to a state grow out of institutionally conditioned, yet historically shifting, political balances and bargains among states and between a state and social classes. Basic sets of facts to sort out in any study of state capacities involve the sources and amounts of state revenues and the degree of flexibility possible in their collection and deployment. Domestic institutional arrangements and international situations set difficult-to-change limits within which state elites must maneuver to extract taxes and obtain credit. Does a state depend on export taxes (e.g., from a scarce national resource, or from products vulnerable to sudden world-market fluctuations)? Does a nonhegemonic state’s geopolitical position allow it to reap the state-building benefits of military aid, or must it rely on international bankers or aid agencies which insist upon favoring private investments and restrict the domestic political options of the borrower state? What established authority does a state have to collect taxes, borrow, and invest in potentially profitable public enterprises; and how much “room” is there in the existing constitutional-political system to change patterns of revenue collection unfavorable to the state? Finally, what authority and organizational means does a state have to deploy whatever financial resources it does enjoy? Are particular kinds of revenues rigidly “earmarked” for special uses that cannot easily be altered by official decision makers?10See John A. Dunn, Jr., “The Importance of Being Earmarked: Transport Policy and Highway Finance in Great Britain and the United States,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 20, no. 1 (January 1978): 29–53. Can the state channel (and manipulate) flows of credit to particular enterprises and industrial sectors, or do established constitutional–political practices favor only aggregate categorical expenditures? All of these sorts of questions need to be asked in any study of state capacities; the answers to them, taken together, provide the best possible general insight into the direct or indirect leverage a state is likely to have for realizing any sort of goal it may pursue. For a state’s means of raising and deploying financial resources tell us more than could any other single factor about its existing (and immediately potential) capacities to create or strengthen state organizations, to employ personnel, to coopt political support, to subsidize economic enterprises, and to fund social programs. “Financial means,” are indeed, as the sixteenth-century French jurist Jean Bodin said, “the nerves of the state.”
Policy instruments for specific kinds of state efforts
Basic questions about a state’s territorial integrity, financial means, and staffing may be the place to start in any investigation of its capacities to realize goals, yet the most fruitful studies of state capacities tend to focus on particular policy areas. As Stephen Krasner puts it: “There is no reason to assume a priori that the pattern of strengths and weaknesses will be the same for all policies. One state may be unable to alter the structure of its medical system but be able to construct an efficient transportation network, while another can deal relatively easily with getting its citizens around but cannot get their illnesses cured.”11Stephen D. Krasner, Defending the National Interest: Raw Materials Investments and US Foreign Policy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978), 58. Many studies of the abilities of states to realize particular kinds of goals use the concept of “policy instrument” to refer to the relevant means that a state may have at its disposal. The nature and range of institutional mechanisms that state officials may conceivably be able to bring to bear on a given kind of problem must be specified through cross-national comparative research.“Once again, as in the Fainstein study, it is the juxtaposition of different nations’ approaches to a given policy area that allows relevant policy instruments to be highlighted.”
For example, Susan and Norman Fainstein compare the urban policies of northwest European nations to those of the United States. Accordingly, they are able to conclude that the US national state lacks certain policy instruments for dealing with urban crises that are available to European states—instruments such as central planning agencies, state-controlled pools of investment capital, and directly administered national social welfare programs.12Susan S. and Norman I. Fainstein, “National Policy and Urban Development,” Social Problems 26, no. 2 (December 1978): 125–46. See especially pages 140–41. Analogously, Peter Katzenstein brings together a set of related studies of how six advanced-industrial capitalist countries manage the international trade, investment, and monetary involvements of their economies.13Peter J. Katzenstein, ed., Between Power and Plenty: Foreign Economic Policies of Advanced Industrial States (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978). Katzenstein is able to draw fairly clear distinctions between the strategies open to states such as the Japanese and the French, which have policy instruments that enable them to intervene at the level of particular industrial sectors, and other states, such as Britain and the United States, which must rely upon aggregate macroeconomic manipulations. Once again, as in the Fainstein study, it is the juxtaposition of different nations’ approaches to a given policy area that allows relevant policy instruments to be highlighted. Neither study, however, treats such “instruments” as the deliberate short-term creations of state officials. Both studies move out toward macrohistorical explorations of the broad institutional patterns of divergent national developments that determine why various countries now have—or do not have—policy instruments for dealing with particular problems or crises.
States in relation to societal actors
Fully specified studies of state capacities not only entail examinations of the resources and instruments states may have for dealing with particular sorts of problems; they also necessarily look at more than states as such. They examine states in relation to particular kinds of socioeconomic and political environments, populated by actors with given interests and resources. One obvious use of a relational perspective is to investigate the power of states over domestic or transnational nonstate actors and structures, especially economically dominant ones. What capacities do states have to change the behavior or oppose the demands of such actors, or to transform recalcitrant structures? Answers lie not only in features of states themselves, but also in the balances of states’ resources and situational advantages compared to those of nonstate actors.
This sort of relational approach is used by Stephen Krasner in his exploration of the efforts of US officials to implement foreign raw-materials policy in interactions with large corporations, whose preferences and established practices frequently ran counter to the state’s definition of the “national interest.”14Krasner, National Interest, especially Parts Two and Three. This is also the sort of approach used by Alfred Stepan to analyze Peruvian military leaders’ relative successes and failures in using state power to change the patterns of foreign capital investments in their dependent country.15Stepan, State and Society, chap. 7. Stepan does a brilliant job of developing a consistent set of causal hypotheses to explain the diverse outcomes across industrial sectors—i.e., sugar, oil, and manufacturing. For each sector, he examines regime characteristics—degree of commitment to clear policy goals, technical capacities, monitoring abilities, state-controlled investment resources, and the state’s international position. He also examines the characteristics of existing investments and markets as they impinge upon the advantages to Peru and to foreign multinationals of any given further investments. The entire argument is too complex to reproduce here, but its significance extends well beyond the foreign investment issue area and the Peruvian case. By taking a self-consciously relational approach to the balances of resources that states and multinational corporations may bring to bear in their partially symbiotic and partially conflictual dealings with one another, Stepan has provided an important model for further studies of state capacities in many policy areas.“In short, a complete analysis requires examinations of the organization and interests of the state, of the organization and interests of socioeconomic groups, and of the complementary as well as the conflicting relationships of state and societal actors.”
Another relational approach to the study of state capacities appears in Peter Katzenstein’s Between Power and Plenty, where (as was indicated above) the object of explanation is ultimately not state power over nonstate actors, but nations’ strategies for managing “interdependence” within the world capitalist economy. One notion centrally invoked in the Katzenstein collection is that of a “policy network” embodying a patterned interrelationship between state and society within each domestic national structure. The idea is that the definition and implementation of foreign economic policies grows out of the nexus of state and society. Both state goals and the interests of powerful classes may influence policy orientations. And the implementation of policies is shaped not only by the policy instruments available to the state but also by the organized support it receives from key societal groups. Thus, national policies—for example, industrial reorganization—may be efficaciously implemented because a strong central state controls credit and can intervene within industrial sectors. Yet it may be of equal importance that industries are organized into disciplined associations willing to cooperate with the state. In short, a complete analysis requires examinations of the organization and interests of the state, of the organization and interests of socioeconomic groups, and of the complementary as well as the conflicting relationships of state and societal actors. This is the sort of approach consistently used by the contributors to Power and Plenty to explain the foreign economic objectives of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States, as well as to explain the capacities of their domestic political systems to implement existing or conceivable alternative policies.
Agendas for future comparative research
Now that states are back at the center of attention in macroscopic studies of societal change and public policymaking, there are new needs and possibilities for comparative research and theory. Since it is clear from existing studies that the organizational structures of states underpin the initiatives they take and their capacities to achieve policy goals, we need to know much more about the long-term development of states themselves. How are states built and reconstructed? What roles have been played by wars or major economic and political crises; and how do state agencies and activities develop in more normal times? What social, economic, and political factors influence patterns of official recruitment, the acquisition and deployment of state financial resources, and the establishment and use of specific policy instruments to address given kinds of problems faced by states and societies? We also need to know much more about the changing patterns of state–society relationships. How do states and socioeconomic groups affect one another’s organization and goals? And how do conflicts and alliances between organized social or economic actors and state agencies affect the formulation and implementation of various kinds of public policies?“It seems very likely that some of the most strategic findings will arise from the juxtaposition of research findings about very different geographical areas and historical time periods.”
Answers to questions such as these will necessarily develop through analytically sharply focused comparative and historical studies. And it seems very likely that some of the most strategic findings will arise from the juxtaposition of research findings about very different geographical areas and historical time periods. On issues of state building or the state’s role in industrial development, for example, scholars looking at the contemporary Third World might have much to learn from, and say to, students of earlier eras in European and US history. On other issues, such as the state’s management of relationships to the world economy, contemporary comparisons of, say, very small or very large countries the world over may yield refreshing insights. And on matters such as the rise and development (and demise?) of Keynesian economic strategies, comparisons of European nations with the United States might be most appropriate. Exact comparative strategies are bound to depend upon the specific issues addressed. But it is clear that further scholarly dialogue will need to transcend parochial specialties based on time and geography in order to explain the processes by which states develop, formulate policies, and seek to implement them in domestic and international contexts.
Comparative, state-centered research along the above-suggested lines will have policy implications—but not of the short-term, how-to-do-it sort. Other sorts of social scientific research are better tailored to helping public officials decide what to do on a month-to-month basis. Yet given the fact that states are so obviously and inextricably involved in the economic development, social change, and politics of all contemporary nations, social scientists also need to address the broader and longer-term determinants of the state’s role. The limits and the possibilities of public policy are profoundly influenced by historically developed state organizations and their structured relationships to domestic and international environments. Citizens, public officials, and social scientists alike therefore share an interest in better understanding states themselves both as actors and as organizational structures.
This article is adapted from a paper presented at a Council conference on “States and Social Structures: Research Implications of Current Theories,” held at the Seven Springs Center, Mt. Kisco, New York, February 25–27, 1982.
The conference was organized by the author and Peter Evans and Dietrich Rueschemeyer, both sociologists at Brown University. Other participants in the conference were Alice Amsden, Barnard College; Pierre Birnbaum, University of Paris I; Fred Block, University of Pennsylvania; Atilio Borón, National Autonomous University of Mexico; Richard R. Fagen, Stanford University; Albert O. Hirschman, Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton, New Jersey); Ira Katznelson, University of Chicago; Stephan D. Krasner, Stanford University; Peter J. Katzenstein, Cornell University; Claus Offe, University of Bielefeld; Alessandro Pizzorno, Harvard University; Adam Przeworski, University of Chicago; Richard Rubinson, The Johns Hopkins University; José Serra, Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning (CEBRAP), Sao Paulo; Kenneth Sharpe, Swarthmore College; Alfred Stepan, Yale University; Göran Therborn, University of Lund; and Charles Tilly, University of Michigan. Participating from the Council were Robert A. Gates, Martha A. Gephart, Brooke Larson, and Kenneth Prewitt.
Theda Skocpol is the Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology at Harvard University. At Harvard, she has served as dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (2005–2007) and as director of the Center for American Political Studies (2000–2006). In 1996, Skocpol served as president of the Social Science History Association, an interdisciplinary professional group, and in 2002–03, she served as president of the American Political Science Association. She served as the cochair of the SSRC’s Committee on States and Social Structures (1985–1990) and was coeditor of the committee’s seminal text Bringing the State Back In (with Peter Evans and Dietrich Rueschemeyer; Cambridge University Press, 1985).
This essay originally appeared in Items Vol. 36, No. 1–2 in June 1982. Visit our archives to view the original as it first appeared in the print editions of Items.