Neither real nor fictitious but ‘as if real’? A political ontology of the state
British Journal of Sociology
GB : Wiley-Blackwell
459 - 480 p.
State, political ontology, realism, ‘as if realism’
The state is one of series of concepts (capitalism, patriarchy and class being others) which pose a particular kind of ontological difficulty and provoke a particular kind of ontological controversy – for it is far from self-evident that the object or entity to which they refer is in any obvious sense ‘real’. In this paper I make the case for developing a distinct political ontology of the state which builds from such a reflection. In the process, I argue that the state is neither real nor fictitious, but ‘as if real’ – a conceptual abstraction whose value is best seen as an open analytical question. Thus understood, the state possesses no agency per se though it serves to define and construct a series of contexts within which political agency is both authorized (in the name of the state) and enacted (by those thereby authorized). The state is thus revealed as a dynamic institutional complex whose unity is at best partial, the constantly evolving outcome of unifying tendencies and dis-unifying counter-tendencies.