State, Culture, Conflict

The book begins with defining state as a complex networks of relations among a changing or shifting mixture of institutions and social groups. It is a product of their own particular processes of institutional development, historical change, and some important external influences. Further on in the chapter under states and state formation, the author defines the state as an idea, myth, or symbolic construct. The state can be seen as a powerful and enduring social phenomena that repeats and embeds itself with daily behavior and practice that is organized through societal thoughts and actions. It is at this point that we experience power of the state over us. Timothy Mitchell further elaborates that the mind is not the only thing that is dominated as this extends into many material forms, such as architecture of public buildings, military uniforms, etc. Towards the end of the chapter is a small section on state formation being cultural under the section Rules, Resources, and Wars under subsection characters of states. In this little part, he author explores state formation as symbolic with an organizational or material process. The production of meaning behind the symbolism is the core to state development progress. Activities of the state are performed by all the actors involved, including officials to workers and citizens.

I would like to highlight that the first state definition includes some key parts, including the historical change that exists in state formation. If you couple this with the part about state as a symbolic construct, specifically state seen as a powerful and enduring social phenomena, we begin to get the picture that those who associate themselves well with other people are going to feel unity and a sense of history with each other. In many cases, history is a powerful determinant of what happens in the future of social constructs. So, if people feel that they would do well to be united, then a symbolic relationship develops from this relationship among people in the network. With a larger and larger network, there most be a way to organize, so a governing institution is born and becomes the symbol of the network. At this level, you may see cities, but if cities begin to see connections between one another, then we rescale and create institutions at a larger scale that symbolize the unity of these cities and their regions. In order to keep this meaning current and strong, everyone has to do their part to keep the cultural aspect of the state alive. The organizational and material process of this part is crucial.

When the author talks about Bayart stating that African countries are not ‘failed’ versions of European states, it is quite possible that he may be correct. Perhaps the development of these countries lacked a solid cultural core discussed above. For example, problems in Sudan between different peoples within the country have lead to the creation of South Sudan as a symbol of their independence from Sudan and to govern themselves how they would like to be governed.

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