The State and State-Building

The state increasingly represents an enigma in contemporary politics, and opens up a variety of controversies in social science research. On the one hand, the state has been a central concept used to constitute the ‘international’, and its institutionalization across the globe the focus of concern behind state-building. For instance, the state frequently represents itself as a practical measure of political maturity – as exemplified by the significance attached to ‘a seat’ at the United Nations and the importance assigned to state-building measures as a means to counter poverty and terrorism. Yet, on the other hand, there are simultaneous claims that the state is increasingly eclipsed by global markets, transnational environmental and social hazards, and not to mention expanding webs of international governance regimes. Following this logic, the concept of the state is argued as outdated, while we are being persuaded to be better off speaking of a politics of networks, instead of a politics among nations.

This leaves us at an interesting juncture, at which some are concerned with crises of the state, while others refer to an evolving transposition of political authority beyond the state. Apparently, the state is a matter of concern for some, while for others it is epiphenomenal. What does this mean for social science analysis in its interpretation of our present political circumstances? How should political, social and legal researchers reconcile this swath of seeming contradictions: e.g., EU states secede growing degrees of sovereignty to Brussels, mounting secessionist movements clamour for statehood in New York, business and financial networks define the rules of ‘best practice’ in Davos…

Many political and social theorists would argue that what seems a puzzle is not one at all: the concept of the state is, according to them, nothing more than a social and political arrangement. To refer to Nettl’s characterization: ‘a conceptual variable’ which arises not from nature but from conceptual construction and social authority. Yet, this explanation only leads to further questions; namely, what role can and should we expect from the present-day state? Which lessons can be drawn from our encounters with the state as an example of both authority and impotence? How should we articulate the changing boundaries between sovereignty and accountability, rights and responsibilities, the universal and the culturally determined, the individual and the collective, hierarchy and equality? These are profound questions which extend beyond a single discipline, and benefit greatly from the interdisciplinary insights of scholars across International Relations, Comparative Politics, Political and Social Theory, and International Law. They prompt reflection on theoretical postulates that encounter emerging practices and contradictions.

The chosen site of this conference, Belgrade, is a fitting location to consider these issues. Belgrade is at the heart of a region where politics dictates that the state does and does not matter. The former instance is demonstrated by challenges of secessionism and state-building, while the latter is reflected in national aspirations for EU membership and a Europe without borders. These different political objectives and practices demonstrate that Belgrade is indeed a symbolic site for addressing the controversies that are opened up by the concept of the state.

Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory, University of Belgrade,
Center for Ethics, Law and Applied Philosophy, Belgrade,
Centre for the Study of Democracy, Westminster University, London

The Conference is supported by the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Serbia, the Balkan Trust for Democracy and the Erste Stiftung


Petar Bojanić
Center for Ethics, Law and Applied Philosophy
Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory
University of Belgrade
11000 Beograd, Serbia
Tel: 381-11-2646-242

Vojin Rakić
Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory
Center for Ethics, Law and Applied Philosophy
University of Belgrade
11000 Beograd, Serbia
Tel: 381-11-2646-242;

David Chandler
Department of Politics and International Relations
University of Westminster
32-38 Wells Street
London, W1T 3UW
United Kingdom