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Benjamin Smith

The state-in-society approach has been a public good in political science

for more than two decades. Between finishing his dissertation on peasant
rebellion and publishing State in Societya nearly thirty-year spanJoel
S. Migdals intellectual trajectory is clear in hindsight. On the one hand,
one sees an individual fascinated with the ability of state leaders to compel
their countrys children to attend public school for more than ten years.
On the other hand, one sees him marveling at just how limited state power
often is and how relatively rarely states can convince or compel citizens
to follow their rules and employ state-sanctioned survival strategies. The
chapters in this book not only are a tribute to the immense impact that
Migdals work has had in shaping comparative research on the state but
also represent the latest phase in the evolution of state-in-society scholarship.

The Roots of the State-in-Society Approach

At its core, the state-in-society framework is a lens through which to view
the struggles that take place within every society over whose rules are the
ones people decide to follow. To squeeze Migdals 1988 book, Strong Societies and Weak States, unfairly into a couple of paragraphs, it focuses on
the material aspects of building effective government in the postcolonial
world. Many of his contemporaries in political science took for granted the
power of governments around the world to act coherently and to impose
Weberian order on their territories. This tendency (Evans, Rueschemeyer,