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Debate on "State Transformation or Regime Shift? Addressing Some Confusions in the Theory and Sociology of the State", by Alan Scott and Paul du Gay

, July 4, 2011

Online discussion

SESSION 1 START: 25/05/2011 14:51  END: 25/05/2011 17:11


Bracci Fabio

Komlik Oleg

Savini Federico

Zhang Hongbo


Scott Alan

Du Gay Paul


Giovanni Torrisi


Yuri Kazepov

[Kazepov Yuri] Welcome to Prof. Alan Scott

[Scott Alan] Good evening (day) - sorry about the delay. Fire away! While we wait let me introduce myself: I am Alan Scott. My co-author - Paul du Gay - should join us later.

[Torrisi Giovanni] Today we are going to comment on the recent article by Prof. Scott and Prof. Du Gay about: "State Transformation or Regime Shift? Addressing Some Confusions in the Theory and Sociology of the State"

Please Prof. Scott you can begin to introduce yourself and the issue discussed in your article.

[Scott Alan] Ok. In this article we discuss the concept of the state - a key notion in both Weberian and Marxists political sociology/state theory. We argue that sociology often works with a foreshortened historical vision and is inclined to search for epochal shifts. We defend a quasi-essentialist notion of the state and introduce the notion of regime (borrowing from Raymond Aron) to address the question: what has changed and what is relatively stable in the ‘state story.’ Our critique is aimed at both Marxist state theory and the kind of Weberian approach to recent developments in the state represented by the influential TranState group in Bremen, Germany.

Yes, it would be nice to know something about you, the participants. For my part, I am a political sociologist with a strong interest in social theory and Paul is a very influential organizational sociologist.

[Torrisi Giovanni] Wonderful. I will begin with my presentation, so that everybody can have some time to write. You could write in using the "question" option, in order to avoid overlapping. I am a legal sociologist. I have a MA in legal sociology, an LLM in European Legal Theory and a PhD. in Legal philosophy. I am very interested in the relationship between theory of state and theory of law.

[Bracci Fabio] I am a PhD student at the university of Urbino. I live in Tuscany, and my main fieldwork is sociology of migrations

[Scott Alan] Good to meet you

[Catena Leonardo] Hi everybody, I'm Leonardo Catena. I'm a PhD on Sociology and I'm interested in the welfare state field

 [Bracci Fabio] Good to meet you for me too

[Savini Federico] Good afternoon to everybody. I am a sociologist who gently moved towards urban planning. Currently, PhD student at the University of Amsterdam. I work on urban development in Paris, Amsterdam and Milan city regions. My focus is on the urban politics of city change, and I try to understand the relationship between concrete choices of planning (strategic plans or large scale development projects) and the power relationships between market, state and citizenship in contemporary metropolises.

[Komlik Oleg] Good afternoon Prof. Scott and everyone. Good to be here again. My name is Oleg Komlik, I am a PhD student (economic sociology) in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Ben-Gurion University, Israel. In my doctoral dissertation I analyze the relationship between Israeli banks and the state agencies during the years, especially its institutional and political aspects. As well I focus on the institutional change of the Israeli Banking sector and financial system in the neoliberal and global age

[Scott Alan] Is that everyone? A wide range of interest, but for all the state must be a key concept. I look forward to you questions, which I hope I can address!

[Kazepov Yuri] If I may intervene just shortly... about our two authors: their mix of competences is a nice combination. The state is indeed an institution which organizes other institutions (some would say structures) and Weber brings in action in the process, avoiding structural rigidities to be too rigid. I liked that.... as an introduction...

[Scott Alan] Me too!

[Kazepov Yuri] I am an urban sociologist and interested in the territorial dimension of social policies... i.e. in the relationship between the state, families, markets (and other actors and levels) in structuring the "boarders of citizenship"

[Torrisi Giovanni] Very well, let us begin with the question...

[Scott Alan] Thanks, Yuri. Shall we start to take questions?

[Torrisi Giovanni] The first one arrives from China. Hongbo Zhang is one of the participants who are experiencing some difficulties in getting inside the platform... but he succeeded in sending in one question:

[Hongbo Zhang] I would like to ask a question about the controversy between national identity and European citizenship of immigrants in the process of European integration. In the short-term future of Europe as a political union of member states, would promoting a sense of European identity, cultural homogeneity, and universal progressive values be a way to strength and develop a "European civil society" in the global competition? Would "identity" and values matter the cross-cultural cooperation between Chinese and Danish/European, as a way to maintain the survival of Europe?

[Scott Alan] The EU has for a long time been seeking to address questions of 'European identity' - e.g. through student exchange programmes.But at the same time, the EU is not a state in a conventional sense, but a political formation brought about through treaty between states. There is a lot of (as yet inconclusive) debate about how to characterize the EU as a political entity: A federation? A 'post-sovereign' state form? etc.

The issue of migration is, of course, a hot issue. I have not been following recent development that closely (perhaps Paul can add something when he arrives as he works in Denmark), but there is a current controversy over INTERNAL borders in the EU. Perhaps Yuri might want to add something here, but this is seems to me a major shift away from integration in the EU: freedom of movement, etc.

[Torrisi Giovanni] Thanks a lot to Prof. Scott. The EU situation is very singular. It has some of the characteristics of a state (a parliament, a unique and coherent juridical system, the euro, etc.) and some of the characteristics of an intergovernmental agreement. it has even a unique citizenship, even if of a different value than the national one.

The question of the citizenship is very closely related to the migration point. Among the rights of an EU citizen there is the freedom of movement in all EU space. This is not anymore a hot issue. It was some years ago when Romania got in. Now the hot issue is how to harmonize the external borders against non-EU citizens. This brings about trust between EU states. But I will leave the floor to Yuri.

[Kazepov Yuri] It depends with what we compare the EU to. If we compare it with a state, it misses important bits and pieces (in institutional terms), and indeed there are several borders of "Europe", there is the EMU (with the Euro) there is Schengen, there is EU27 there is EEA, etc. etc. all of them have a different institutional status with specific rights and duties. Migration plays a crucial role in this from many points of view as it is used by the different actors to build inclusionary/exclusionary scenarios. I am not an expert on this specific aspect, but when we come to social policies we see that the direct influence of the EU.is weak and this weakness reflects a lot of other weaknesses in terms of legitimacy for instance or in political terms, in the sense that the social policies cannot be used to build the "new Europe" because Europe is not able to carry this through.

[Scott Alan] And, of course, EU citizenship is based upon national citizenship. There is the still influential argument of Alan Milward that the EU is the rescue of the national state, and concerns with borders are, of course, classical state concerns. Richard Lachmann has recently argued (against globalization theorists) that concerns with migration will provide the state with a strong rationale. Perhaps we are seeing some of that in current tension within the EU around migration, with Denmark seemingly playing a nation card.

[Torrisi Giovanni] We could also reverse the discussion. What about EU nation states after the EU? They lose a lot of their "statehood". They do not have any more full monetary power, full control over their borders; they lose the possibility of introducing protectionist taxes when good arrive from inside the EU. And I could go on. They become half-states or maybe T4? We have some other questions. Prof. Scott, shall we go on?

[Scott Alan] ok

[Bracci Fabio] What do you think about the trend, apparent - according to me - in some countries, to overtake the distinction between an office and the person holding that office, i.e. all the situations in which rulers and officers are owners of relevant personal assets having a great influence in state politics? Which kind of effects can have this trend on your theories?

[Scott Alan] Ah, this is really a question that Paul would love to answer!

[Torrisi Giovanni] Maybe we could leave it for later. Paul should arrive in 15 minutes.

[Scott Alan] In Weber's story, the separation between person and office is absolutely central to the development of a legal rational state and rational capitalism. Paul's concern (and he can elaborate) is that new types of governance - both of organizations and of states - have undermined the distinction between person and office (Amt und Person). This is part of a broader issue: governance modelled upon management undermined distinctions between those politically responsible and the civil service by politicizing the latter. The civil service is exposed to a political culture of 'just do it' and its autonomy and independence from political command and political will is weakened. On a Weberian view of politics and the state this is dangerous because it is the struggle between those with political responsibility and administration that is a condition for democratic governance. Weber is typically concerned that it will be the administration that will get the upper hand, but the argument applies in principle in both directions. Let's wait for now, and Paul may say more about this.

[Torrisi Giovanni] Thanks a lot... We could deepen the discussion later with Prof. Du Guy...

[Bracci Fabio] Thanks, Prof. Scott

[Torrisi Giovanni] You made me think about euro-burocrats and their power, which is inverse proportional to the political weakness of the EU.

[Scott Alan] Yes!

[Torrisi Giovanni] Now we have a question about governance and government from Leonardo Catena.

[ Catena Leonardo] May the transition from government to governance change the basis of democracy? And, if so, how?

[Scott Alan] This is closely linked to the above question. One of the best things I have read on this is a piece by Claus Offe and Ulrich Preuss, which we quote (I think!) in the article. Offe and Preuss define governance as 'government without an opposition' (!) Their point is this: 'governance' is neo-corporatism writ large. As in neo-corporatist arrangements (e.g. Austria) effective governance has priority over political opposition and institutionalized conflict. Government takes the form of partnership, but the partners are not (and cannot be) everyone - they are the major interests: capital, (organized) labour and (perhaps) farmers.  They suggest that 'governance' particularly in the EU model has this quality. But such arrangements, while consensual, are not fully democratic. Who selects the partners? Who is not included? There is even the argument that such governance arrangements create a pool of those who feel excluded who can then be mobilized by – usually, right-wing - popularism. But even if that is not the case, Offe and Preuss's point is that governance does not conform to the basic principle of representative democracy: one person one vote. And they see is as a reflection of the weak legitimation and authority of the state (a point Giovanni made just now about the EU).

[ Torrisi Giovanni] Thanks. The discussion is getting very interesting...

[Torrisi Giovanni] before sending the question from Federico Savini, I would like to ask Alan the following:

How can the state have a predominant part in both government and governance while we are in a globalized world? Most of the stakeholders have international interest and power. Labor, capital, multinationals... express global power and are global players.

[Scott Alan] Our paper tends to support those (like Linda Weiss and Lachmann) who argue that the national state still has a strong role in a so-called globalized world. Of, course we - and others - are not denying the power or importance of international institutions, corporations and forces. But one point made here (with which we agree) is that nation states are an active contributor to so-called globalization. Paul Hirst (very significant UK political thinker), for example, argued strongly that borders still matter and that the nation state is more than one level with 'multi-level' governance. A related argument (with which we again agree) is made by Linda Weiss: globalization alters state capacities: how they operate, their rationale, etc. but does not weaken them. Perhaps the reverse. Does anyone want to say more on the two related issues we are discussing?

[Torrisi Giovanni] I have many doubts about it. Especially when we detach the ideal type of state from its factual reality. in other words China has a different influence than Nigeria and a different possibility to intervene in the international arena. Let us now go to the next question which is by Federico Savini.

[Savini Federico] Super interesting paper Prof. Scott! I found effective the conceptual shift you are proposing in order to read change in State. I agree with one of the presuppositions since the beginning: the history of the state is so long that it's probably a conceptual misunderstanding to think at State changes in the last 40-50 years. My first question regards the relationship between State and Regime, between 'form' and 'modality' and the causal relationship between them. If regime is a modality of the state form how could we explain the change in State form (and, presumably, the change in regime when the state changes?) are regime and state independent from each other? could we imagine a state T1 and a state T2 sharing the same regime? if not, what is the crucial variable explaining the change in state? Is it the regime, or, again for example, capital shifts (structuralist perspectives)?

[Scott Alan] Yes, okay, but there is also the argument from Béatrice Hubou (which we quote, and I like!) that - for example - Eastern European and African states (and political elites) are strengthened by privatization. That was a response to Giovanni; I'll now look at Savini's response. Yes, that a very good question! I first have to admit that the notion of 'regime' in our paper is underdeveloped. It needs more thought as work before we shall have a convincing argument. We used it to try to divide that which does change (as within a 30-50 yr period) from state institution which - we claim! - are much more historically stable. We do that in order to try to avoid what we see as a conceptual confusion in much sociological (in a broad sense) discussion of state 'transformation.' That is also the reason we use Gianfranco Poggi's account of the 'constitutional state' as an alternative benchmark. I think we mean two things by 'regime'. Firstly, (temporary) coalitions between actors. This is not so different from Gramsci's notion of the 'hegemonic bloc.' But we also use it in the sense of neo-institutionalism: as sets of rules, both informal of formal (regulation, law, etc.). But, as I say, this needs more work.

[Savini Federico] I like this very much anyway...I think that these essential features of the State are very crucial you say sovereignty and security (internal-external).

The latter is quite clear to me, and I completely agree (I am not an expert!)....the first function of the state is to survive, to keep existing the second I think it is more complex (and therefore interesting) to me...

[Scott Alan] We also try to revive the arguments of someone very unfashionable: Raymond Aron. His emphasis upon the role of institutionalized conflict is close to Weber, and not so far away from the Offe-Preuss position (though I am not sure they would thank us for suggesting that!)

[Savini Federico] Thank you so much Prof....could you tell the reference by Offe-Preuss you refer to?

[Scott Alan] Yes, we tend to strip back the definition of the state to core functions: e.g. internal and external security. We commit the sin of 'essentialism'!

[Torrisi Giovanni] Thanks.

[Scott Alan] I don’t have the exact reference (I think it's in our paper), but it’s in a book on democracy edited by Crouch and Streeck.

[Torrisi Giovanni] Fabio Bracci

[Bracci Fabio] in a certain sense prof Scott has already answered, but, anyway, I would like to know what he thinks about this fact: in migrations, states have a very influential role in shaping flows and trends of international mobility; now, it seems to be necessary to reach some agreement at a supranational level to better manage this issue; at the same time, states are reluctant to follow this common trend. are these 'opposite attitudes' simbolically expressing the ambivalent transformations of states (in UE, at least)?
[Scott Alan] I am not an authority on this, but what I see is nation states taking ever more drastic steps against illegal immigrants and increasing restricting legal immigration. I see this when I read European papers, and I see it here in Australia where I have been working for the last few months (my permanent visa is pending!).

There is also - of course - the highly successful mobilization of anti-immigrant feeling by the populist right in Central Europe and elsewhere. But perhaps we need to take a step back as Lachmann does and try to understand how these are powerful forces that provide (and will continue to provide) the nation state with its rationale. I don't really feel qualified to address the part of your question concerning international regulation.

[Torrisi Giovanni] Fabio, would you like to follow up on this?

[Bracci Fabio] That's ok, thanks

[Scott Alan] Has Paul been able to join us?

[Torrisi Giovanni] Let us see to the second question by Federico.

 [Federico Savini] Dear Prof. Scott. Very interesting paper! My questions regard methodology. I wonder whether a causal relationship can exist between what you call modality and what you call form, which are regimes and the State. Is it possible to argue that shifts in regime are motors of State changes? Or actually, within a determine State regimes change independently, due to other variables?

 [Scott Alan] Yuri, would you like to come in on this question? Savini, could you saw more about the difference between modality and form? I am not quite sure I understand.

[Savini Federico] yes, I refer to modality (regime) and form (state) as in the paper. Is the scalar organization of the state a form of the state or a modality of governing (an expression of the regime)?

[Scott Alan] Okay, got it! This is a good, and not easy (!), question!

[Kazepov Yuri] Difficult question, in the sense that actually the state and its history are bound to the nation state... however, as you rightly pointed out...

[Scott Alan] If I had to give a snap answer, I would say: modality. Sorry, Yuri, go on (while I think)

[Kazepov Yuri] ;-) Something is changing. But is this changing the intimate essence of the state?

Alan answered "modality"... and I fully agree as long as specific features of the state are not questioned...if you take a dynamic perspective (rescaling is change built in)...then there might be a process taking place...

which resembles what has been pointed out before ...mentioning the shift from government to governance.

[Scott Alan] Thanks, Yuri. There is a very influential argument (associated with Neil Brenner) in urban sociology that changing 'state spaces' constitute a transformation of the state. This is exactly the kind of position our paper seeks to challenge, so I have to answer: 'modality'. Hi Paul!

[Kazepov Yuri] Welcome to Paul!

[Du Gay Paul] Hi all!

[Torrisi Giovanni] I would like to get immediately inside the matters.

[Bracci Fabio] Hi, Prof du Gay

[Torrisi Giovanni] Before a question was proposed... and everybody agrees that was a perfect one for Prof. du Gay...

[Du Gay Paul] I can see the question. Hi Federico

[Zhang Hongbo] Hello, Prof. du Gay.

[Torrisi Giovanni] I will post it here again nevertheless:

[Question from Bracci Fabio] what do you think about the trend, apparent - according to me - in some countries, to overtake the distinction between an office and the person holding that office, i.e. all the situations in which rulers and officers are owners of relevant personal assets having a great influence in state politics? which kind of effects can have this trend on your theories?

[Du Gay Paul] I think this is a trend and a lamentable one. It occurs in many different offices of state, and has little to commend it. One thinks of many different instances, Sarkozy and Berlusconi, for example, through to the conducts of bureaucratic office within state administration in the UK and elsewhere

[Zhang Hongbo] Yes. Alright. I intended to propose the question for Prof. du Gay actually. Anyhow, I will read the answer later from the transcript. Thank you!

[Du Gay Paul] I think that it does not affect the argument concerning the importance of office holders acting within the confines of their offices. Rather it confirms that office is an important and enduring institution and that the duties and responsibilities incumbent upon office holders are crucial, for the integrity of the state and for the conduct of responsible government

[Bracci Fabio] I agree, maybe my views is too influenced by foreshortened impressions, as Prof Scott said at the beginning of this seminar.

[Du Gay Paul] Office is not a term that is not currently allotted a great deal of attention with political science or public administration but it remains practically a crucial institution and device. Thinking in terms of office also helps re-establish important distinctions between 'person', 'self' and 'individual' which are often rather blurred in contemporary social science to some cost, explanatory cost, in fact.  Alan, any thoughts?

[Scott Alan] I tried to respond to this question earlier. We are arguing along the same lines.

[Torrisi Giovanni] Ok. thanks to both authors. I think that if we understand the term "state" as an ideal type to construct and that we could use to better comprehend reality many issues disappear; in other words it does not exist: "THE state", but some organizations which could be somehow linked to our ideal type of T1, T2 and T3... of many others. As legal sociologist I have one last question...

[Torrisi Giovanni] A completely different question. Both because it refers to criminal law and because it introduces another perspective. A question about human rights. The criminal in this case is the state itself. It is the state which has to answer for its crimes to the rule of law. The decoupling between state and the rule of law which kind of consequences bears from the point of view of your theory?

[Scott Alan] While Paul ponders, can I just respond to the ideal type point first?

[Torrisi Giovanni] Of course.

[Scott Alan] I think we commit ourselves to something stronger: the view that the state is a set of instruments and institutions; something more that a concept or 'type.'

[Torrisi Giovanni] I understand we have as well one last question from Zhang Hongbo. I can post it, while Prof. Du Gay elaborates an answer to my question above.

[Zhang Hongbo] Hello, professors. I have a question about whether law could be a vehicle for social change? Would it become another cultural revolution if a state applies the western values and democracy, such as China.

[Du Gay Paul] A state with fragmented sovereignty is no state at all, as Pufendorf put it. There are, of course, occasions, when states have to act outside of their own established legal frameworks to undertake their core tasks - of establishing security and peace over a given territory. Emergency measures and powers (often time limited) come to mind. Human Rights can only be secured by states and made practicable through state institutions. Ultimately, without the power, force and capacities to make them operational they are merely aspirations and hopes.

The rule of law is certainly a vehicle for social change

[Kazepov Yuri] If I might come back to the rescaling issue... in relation to what Paul just wrote (if you have finished)....

[Du Gay Paul] Along with a functioning impersonal bureaucracy and armed forces it is a crucial piece of state equipment, Yuri

[Scott Alan] On Giovanni's question: the issue about the state as criminal is complex and old. Rousseau discusses it in the Discourse on Inequality. His argument - in contemporary language - is that such a state (the ruler as tyrant) forfeits all authority, legitimation. Paul's response goes in the same direction.

[Kazepov Yuri] I agree with Alan that "spatial" articulation is "modality" in the sense Federico mentioned, but when it comes to decouple the state from the rule of law, we have indeed a problem.

[Torrisi Giovanni] Thanks a lot to Prof. Scott and Prof. Du Gay. It was a great session. I will see you all for the last meeting with the author with Prof. Michèle Lamont (Harvard University, USA), speaking about: "How Professors Think. Getting into the Sausage Factory".

[Bracci Fabio] Thank you all

[Zhang Hongbo] Thank you!

[Savini Federico] Thank you for this 'intellectually thick' discussion!

[Du Gay Paul] I think that much HR talk is anti-statist and this is deeply problematic. What authority can ultimately judge the conduct of a state and do something to alter its conduct, most probably a sovereign of some sort.

Sorry! Thank you and apologies for my late arrival. Blame it on the sausages I was making :-0

[Kazepov Yuri] ;-) I would like to thank both of you for the nice inputs and reactions to the questions. I very much enjoyed it. In particular thanks to Alan for being with us until late in the night!

[Scott Alan] Okay, many thanks for your questions. It's been an interesting session for me too. All the best!

[Torrisi Giovanni] Thanks again.

[Du Gay Paul] Thanks, Giovanni and Yuri. Sorry for lateness , Alan. Politics of Promotions!

[Kazepov Yuri] We will now close the session. Keep in touch with everybody.