Summary: Migdal rejects the modernization and dependency critiques of development, and argues instead that what is crucially important to recognize is that the state is only one institution among many that seeks to exert control over society – examining situations in a state-society dichotomy is thus not particularly useful. The strength or weakness of state, society or other actor is not dependent on the strength or weakness of any other actor – strong societies can and do exist where there are weak states. At the core of Migdal’s analysis is the importance of the struggle between state elites and local strongmen for influence over society – the strength of society acts as a limit to the state’s ability to strengthen.
“States are weak if state elites fail to control the provision distribution of economic resources and legitimating symbols or if provincial strongmen (business class, owners of large real estate, or local strongmen) manipulate, subvert, or utilize state bureaucratic structures to enhance their power base and thereby undermine state goals and aspirations at the implementation phase.”
Who controls the institutional mechanisms for group survival is key. Importantly, development of state capacity has required two things: 1) the evisceration of societal control in favor of state control; 2) an external source (a colonial power) channeling resources to a state-like organization allowing it to extend its control throughout all of society. The problem is that strong societies have prevented these strong states from emerging.
Important Insight: Both internal and external factors are determinants for state development. The fragmentation of power in weak states/strong societies is self-sustaining
Methodology: Migdal uses case studies in order to demonstrate the claims of his theoretical model
Critique: Migdal’s claims about the importance of external factors is ambiguous. Also, he only tests his strong state thesis against one case (Israel) – needs more to be convincing.