Introduction: The Many Hands of the State

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In this paper, Morgan and Orloff survey the contemporary study of states in the social sciences. They begin by tracing the history of scholarship on the state. The authors identify six main clusters of research on states that emerged through the effort to “bring the state back into” history and the social sciences. These clusters include the institutionalist turn; state formation and building; states, culture, symbolic power, and violence; states, empires and the transnational/global turn; implementing states; and states and social stratification. Discussing the contributions, salience, and limitations of these different approaches, Morgan and Orloff offer guiding statements for theoretically conceptualizing the state. First, the authors argue that the state cannot be replaced by concepts such as “governmentality,” “governance” or “institution.” Second, they contend that scholars should consider the ways in which states concentrate and use material and symbolic powers. Third, they suggest that contemporary states work through complex modes of governance. Finally, Morgan and Orloff assert that the “many hands of the state” offers a useful metaphor for thinking through the complexity and multiplicity of actors and institutions within the state. Morgan and Orloff conclude by reviewing the contents of their forthcoming edited volume.

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  • 01/03/2019
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