State Formation
Historians, anthropologists, and sociologists have now begun to recon-
stitute the appropriate paradigm for studying "the State" Although the
relevance of the latter concept is still disputed, many idealists (such as
Cassirer) and materialists (such as Engels or Lenin) have long defended
the relevance of this focus as an essence, objective facticity, second-order
phenomenon, spirit, cultural field, and so on; i.e., as
A Thing.
Marx at-
tempts to disperse this essentialism-and-reification (Thingification), a
procedure furthered by Mao and Gramsci. This recent work centers forms
of social organization, particularly documentary organization,
as forms of
rule and ruling.
Key questions then become NOT
rules but
is rule
accomplished. This expanded conception of the political (opening to see
the political features of all economic, cultural, and "private" relations)
corresponds to a shift in dominant practices-within advanced capitalist
societies, dependent capitalist formations, and socialist countries-where
terms like "Governance" and "Entrepreneurialism" are now used exten-
This refocusing of "How" questions as necessarily anterior to "Why"
and "Who" or "Whom" questions, has oriented relevant studies toward a
historical sociology of the type encouraged by Philip Abrams. It corre-
sponds with quadruple challenges to, and crises of, legitimacy: socialist
forms, feminist critiques, antiracist analyses,
within the governance of
A version of this essay, with complete bibliographical references, was published
as "State Formation (entry for a dictionary) (1986)," in Philip Corrigan's Social
Forms/Human Capacities Essays in Authority and Difference (London: Routledge, 1990),
264-68. It appears here in its present form with permission of the author and the
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