6.1. Understanding the State through Violence

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Create Date10 October 2016

Abdil Mughis Mudhoffir (Melbourne University)


This paper examines the state theorising debate to highlight how different views of the state lead to different interpretations of the exercise of violence by non-state actors. Focusing on the existence of violent groups can reveal the complex social relationships that constitute state power and through which the expression of violence comes into being. In this regard, I argue that efforts to understand the state should be placed in the capitalist development setting which is characterised by the fusion of political authority, economic forces and the institution of coercion as a means to concentrate capital and power. Violence –exerted by formal repressive apparatuses or any social groups as a state proxy –then is understood as an aspect of political domination by coercion maintained through certain social relations. Thus, the state is a complex set of social relationships that shapes and determines the use of state apparatuses. Such a standpoint can help to move beyond essentialist assumptions, which, as discussed here, stem from the Weberian accounts of the state, and to transcend mere discursive characterizations of the state as advanced by post-structuralist accounts, and in particular anthropology of the state paradigms. The Weberian perspective –maintained by the neo-statist approach and advocated by international development agencies –proposes a state-centred analysis that assumes the state as a set of institutions that monopolises authority and violent practices within certain territorial boundaries. Meanwhile, post-structuralism assumes the state as a discursively constituted image that came into being through practices and representations. Anthropology of the state focuses on the actual practices of the state and its representations, from which the unified image of the state is thought to be constructed. However, I argue that these approaches suffer from the same problem because of their failure in transcending institutional fetishism and its failure to reveal social relations that constitute state power in capitalist societies. The interests of the post-structuralist scholars on the fragmentation and contingency, in turn, join a strange alliance with the Weberian account in abandoning capitalist relation within their social analysis.