SASE Annual Meeting 2013, University of Milan, Italy. States in Europe: uncaging societies and the limits to the infrastructural power
GB : Oxford University Press
131 - 152 p.
Introduction: For more than a century now, states have intervened strongly to alleviate the social and economic consequences of crises in capitalism. New models of regulation, such as Keynesianism, have been invented to deal with capitalist contradictions: to socialize the huge losses booked by banks and large firms, change policy instruments, correct market failures, support regions in decline, transform labor market regulations or create new markets whilst supporting creative destruction. Crises inspire us to think in new ways about periods and varieties of capitalism, about regulation crises and dynamics and about the role, functions and characteristics of the state. At the same time, crises are a great source of tension, pushing political debates to the extreme, sparking waves of protest, and generating political pressures or anti-democratic trends that call into question the very legitimacy of the state. The 2008 financial crisis and the ensuing recession demonstrate both the power and the vulnerability of the modern state. Severely buffeted by the economic crisis, most advanced democracies were forced to take drastic policy measures that often included hugely expensive public interventions in the private sector, only some of which have been paid back. Such measures threw the state's centrality into sharp focus. Although major recessions have challenged the strength and capacity of the state, they have not called into question the role of the state as the primary agent of policy initiatives, nor its legitimate authority to respond to economic crises. The current crisis is no exception and has incited the rapid development of myriad state interventions, both internally and in relation to other states: active policy responses have been deployed across the world, from China and Brazil to the USA. In Europe, states are paying a huge price to support their banks (Woll, in press), and many Southern and Western European countries, under intense pressure from other states and market actors, have taken unprecedented austerity in response to the ongoing European fiscal crisis. There are also other fundamental changes occurring within states. A large strand of political economy research has been devoted to examining the ways in which states have restructured extensively in response to globalization, changing societies, and other phenomena, such as the worsening of long-term fiscal crises or implementation failures. The reach of the state is growing in certain fields, such as auditing, market making or penalizing; it is retreating in others. Whilst some scholars evoke a new phase of the Weberian state and others point to the emergence of neoliberal governmentality, most of us remain slightly confused. Indeed, what is happening to the state—both to specific states and the state in general—is the subject of a massive, disputed and perplexing literature. For instance, sessions devoted to Brazil at the SASE conference in Milan characterized the Brazilian state as complex, hybrid, developmental, post-developmental, neoliberal, soft neoliberal, multilevel … and difficult to conceptualize. Indeed! (The same may be said for more countries than Brazil.) Social scientists in particular have shown themselves to be endlessly creative in their quest to qualify the state, putting forward a remarkable list of adjectives to characterize the state's many forms, functions and dynamics. These include corporatist, managerial, developmental, welfare, warfare, workfare, punishing, hollowed out, regulatory, post-military, obsolete, submerged, standardizing, constrained, activist, technological, virtual, repleted, post-statist, carceral, retreating, unsustainable, cosmopolitan, failed, post-modern and, most recently, post-neoliberal (Grugel and Riggirozzi, 2013). It remains to be seen whether inventing labels leads to clear analytical insights. The state question is not just about political order; it is also about contradictions, failures, democratic contest, economic crisis, climate change, surveillance, war, fragmentation, reform—states may be here to stay, but they are not the same as they once were. Ongoing conceptual debates about the nature of the state and what constitutes statehood are both intimidating and fascinating. The rise of non-positivist approaches to the state that include state trajectories in different parts of the world is both intellectually stimulating and puzzling (Migdal, 2009; Vu, 2010; King and Le Galès, 2011). But for the sake of this article, the state will be understood in a more classic sense of the term: a political form intended to be permanent; a complex set of interdependent, relatively differentiated and legitimate institutions; autonomous; based in a defined territory; and recognized as a state by other states. Here, the state is also characterized by its administrative capacity to steer, govern a society, establish constraining rules, solve conflict, exercise authority, protect citizens and make war. Additionally, contemporary states are part of a capitalist system: they set and guarantee property rights, guarantee exchanges and organize economic development by taxing and concentrating resources. The state has taken different shapes in different eras and different countries: it has no absolute form and may even be considered a narrative or a legitimizing myth. Furthermore, key dimensions of state activity may be ‘submerged’ or hidden, that is, made invisible for citizens to develop state capacity without facing citizen hostility (Mann, 1984; Levi 2002; Jessop, 2007; Mettler, 2011). The article argues that the contemporary transformations of states are related to processes of changing scales, particularly supra-national and infra-national processes. Critical urban scholars have written extensively about the organization of societies on different scales. They emphasized the tensions created by mobility, pressures of capital and political logics (Brenner, 1999). Depending on the scale at which societies are organized, they may become more or less structured and institutionalized over time as a result of integrating, centralizing and embedding culture, the economy and the making of a social and political order. This led to what Michael Mann (2013b) has called ‘uncaging’ of citizens and networks. Whilst Mann sees uncaging as a possible but very limited process, this article pays tribute to the exceptional work of this great British sociologist from UCLA and his formidable four-volume work titled Sources of Social Power, particularly, the last two volumes published in 2013 dealing with the twentieth century. Whilst Mann (1997) was famously sceptical about the impact of globalization on the retreat of the state, this article deals with Europe and identifies three types of processes: the uncaging of society, the de-nationalization of society isolating economic policy from democracy and the rise of infra-national territories.