Christopher Pierson’s The Modern State is an update of his popular and successful text of the same name. He has added a chapter on states of the 21st century and thoroughly revised the text. The result is a comprehensive and readable work that fits easily into undergraduate courses on the state.
Locating states in modernity, Pierson provides a broadly historical sociological take on the state, developed in successive chapters on the state and society, the state and economy, the state and citizens and the state and international order. Each chapter takes the reader through the main theoretical positions on each of these topics, as well as giving an introduction to the key historical developments in each domain and a (very short) list of suggestions for further reading. The text is somewhat let down by an abbreviated index (no entries for capitalism or imperialism, for example, although the chapter “States in the 21st century” concludes with a brief discussion of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Empire ).
The book by Roger King and Gavin Kendall covers much the same terrain and just as effectively - this too is an excellent introductory text - but it takes a different route. Pierson’s categories are those of modernity. King and Kendall also begin historically but then, following chapters on “Classical theories of the state” and “Democracy and the state”, they organise the bulk of the text around the major state forms in the later 20th century and their challenges. Thus we get chapters on the interventionist state and its critics (for example, the rise and demise of the Keynesian welfare state), globalisation, suprastate governance and the liberal state (namely, the neoliberal state). In some ways the most interesting chapter is the penultimate one, on “Power, domination, culture and sociality”, which King and Kendall use to suggest that the old political sociology of the classical theories has been replaced by a new political sociology that rejects naturalist accounts of human subjectivity and accounts of power as domination. Instead, they claim, there is no essence to human subjectivity and “power per se is neither good nor evil”. Whatever one thinks of these ideas, they arguably offer a useful way of rethinking the state, as constituted at the
intersection between forms of government and forms of subjectivity.
Mark Neocleous’s Imagining the State is easily the most innovative and challenging of these three works. In contrast to Pierson and Gavin and King, who provide surveys of the main theories and empirical claims made about the modern state, Neocleous sets out to consider the statist political imagination itself. Reminding us that the state has long been imagined in terms drawn from human subjectivity, he offers chapters on the body, mind, personality and home of the state. The result is a series of illuminating perspectives that generate insight into notions of collectivity, the enemy and sovereign agency which, Neocleous argues, have been central to cementing state power in the West. The aim, then, is not simply to work within the conventional imagination of the state - which, Neocleous points out, has in effect colonised political thought and set the limits of the possible in political action - but, through an interrogation of that imagination, to help us think anew about the political.
The book succeeds admirably and ought to prove a popular and stimulating work for students. This is not a conventional textbook, but it would work well in both undergraduate and postgraduate political theory and political sociology courses.
Mark Laffey is lecturer in international politics, School of Oriental and African Studies, London.
The Modern State. Second Edition
Author - Christopher Pierson
Publisher - Routledge
Pages - 195
Price - £65.00 and £17.99
ISBN - 0 415 32932 9 and 32933 7