It is known that, forms of state-society relations may vary depending on the cultural, economic and socio-historical contexts. Thus, it would be better to assert that not a single political process takes place in different societies as the relationship between the state and the society is not the same or fixed. Besides some other factors, one of the most important factors having a considerable degree of influence on the political scene is the relationship between the state and the society. A political system whether it be a democracy or a non-democracy is largely characterized by its state’s behavior towards the (civil) society and vice versa.

One of the most debated issues in political science agenda is for sure, state-society relations. State-society relations are important for a variety of reasons. First of all, the relationship between the state and the society plays a significant role in shaping the political system in general and the political process in particular. For instance, the type of behavior a state has towards the society may lead the state to be called as democratic or non-democratic.

By the end of the Cold War and with the influence of globalization, liberal democracy and its associated concepts such accountability, transparency, and a strong civil society started to spread all over the world. First and foremost, the state of civil society is shaped by the forms of state-society relations. Unless the actors in civil society like that of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) act autonomously from the state, then it would be hard to talk about a liberal democracy in that society.

The forms of state-society relations may be evaluated from a multi-dimensional perspective.


  • What do states do?
    • Collect taxes
    • Provide external & internal security (army & police force)
    • Wage wars
    • Provide infrastructure services (highways, water/electricity systems)
    • Provide educational services (schools)
    • Provide health services (hospitals, social security systems)
    • Control and regulate some aspects of the economy (issues money, sets minimum wage)


  • Regulates the use of certain products (age limit for the sell of alcohol, cigarette)
  • Some states try to improve the living conditions of their citizens and provide services for the young and poor
  • Others may protect illegal money and drug transfers
  • Others may engage in genocidal killing of innocent millions for ‘reason of state’


The key features of the state


  • If a state holds the highest power and can act with complete freedom and independence (in principle) within its territories : it has sovereignty
  • A claim to ultimate authority and power.
  • Internal Sovereignty
    • Within its own territory every state can act as it wishes and is independent of other powers
  • External Sovereignty
    • The state is recognized as a state by other states

Sovereignty: A state is independent and not under the authority of another state or community


  • Max Weber’s (A German social scientist) definition of the state
    • Sovereignty = The monopoly of the use of physical force
    • A monopoly that is not only legal but legitimate.
      • Legitimacy: the condition of being in accordance with the norms and values of the people
    • The use of physical force must be accepted as right and morally legitimate by citizens.
    • Max Weber (1968) defines the state as follows:
      • “A compulsory political organization with continuous operations will be called a ‘state’ insofar as its administrative staff successfully uphold the claim to be the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force in the enforcement of its order.”


  • Civil society is composed of the totality of voluntary social relationships, civic and social organizations, and institutions that form the basis of a functioning society, as distinct from the force-backed structures of a state (regardless of that state’s political system) and the commercial institutions of the market. Together, state, market and civil society constitute the entirety of a society, and the relations between these three components determine the character of a society and its structure.



Some Theoretical Considerations about State-Society Relations

There are two two pervasive assumptions in accounts of state-society relations, and a range of developments that have increasingly undermined them. One of these assumptions takes state and society as dichotomous, mutually exclusive categories. The other holds the aggregation of state-society relations throughout a nation-state into an integrated, macro-level view as inherently unproblematic. In many state-society accounts, social forces and social ties contribute to the autonomy of the state.

State-society relations can be defined as interactions between state institutions and societal groups to negotiate how public authority is exercised and how it can be influenced by people.

We can evaluate the forms of state-society relations from a multi-dimensional perspective. First of all separation of the economic sphere from the state bureaucracy is one of the important dimensions. This condition is a sine qua non for the development of an effective functioning civil society.

The rule of law has been one of the most important elements shaping state-society relations and the political process. In addition, it could be said that, the rule of law paves the way for the emergence or consolidation of democracy.It must be stated that, state-society relations play a key role in shaping the character of the political process. If there is no autonomous civil society and if the state represses societal actors, in this context it would be impossible to see democracy or democratic political process. In addition, if the society is too polarized, and the state is too weak to make the society get cohered, political process may also become paralyzed.

***This is one of my draft homeworks during my PhD study ( back in 2011) and the references and bibliography part is not included, —a draft work!


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