Session 6: The State and its Origins
The What: What is this session on?
It is with this session that we kick off with the first concept which is typically associated with
politics. Namely the state.
We will explore the root definition of the “state”, explore current narratives surrounding its
historical and conceptual roots, speak about the modern state and its link to a very specific, liberal
democratic and eurocentric framework and finally end with a discussion of whether the state as it is
understood in mainstream political science is relevant to our lived experience in Pakistan today.
This session will thus lay the groundwork for four subsequent sessions on the state, by
focusing on mainstream political science's and eurocentric understanding(s) of the state and its
The Why: Why are we focusing on this (importance)?
The world today seems divided in states. Borders, divisions, maps, citizenship, nationalities, et. al.
seem to be one of the key identifying factors of our world, of the political and of our very identities.
One could claim that it is difficult to escape the state.
If we zone in on the field of political science, the state is a primary unit of analysis. One
could argue that despite the claim of certain political scientists in the 1980s that the state had been
taken out as a central unit of analysis in political science following the behaviouralist trend of the
60's and 70's (see the worksheet from last week to understand what behaviouralism is), the state has
certainly always been and continues to be central in political analysis.
It is for this reason that we in this session, and in the four subsequent sessions will be
focusing on the state.
In this session we will specifically be taking our point of departure in mainstream political
science, and in eurocentric perceptions of the state. This is if we accept the premise that the state as
an entity had its primary manifestations in Europe and the western world. This of course does not
mean that the theories regarding the formation of the state, or the definition of it cannot be applied
on countries that are not a part of the West, but rather that the development of these theories have
been informed by a specifically Western experience.
The rest of the sessions will be exploring the state in the rest of the world (i.e. states created
following colonialization, and new, modern states created in recent years – like East Timor),
nationalism as a very specific ideology linked to the notion of a (nation/)state, the globalization and
internationalization of the state and finally, attempts to (re)imagine the world as being without
states. In order to proceed with all of these different, imaginative and experimental explorations, it
is important to understand mainstream political science's understanding of the state.