Theda Skocpol, “Bringing the state back in: strategies of analysis in current research,” in P. Evans, D. Rueschemeyer and T. Skocpol, eds., Bringing the State Back In (1985).

Summary: Skocpol advocates “bringing the state back in” to a central place in explanations of politics and policy formation, arguing that society-based, class-based (Marxism) and economic (Keynesianism) explanations of political behaviour are incomplete. Rather, Skocpol argues that comparative-historical research that focuses on state autonomy and capacity to affect policy change will help build a new theoretical understanding of states in relation to social structures and individual-level political activity.

Method: This piece is a call to action for political scientists to re-examine the role of and the importance of the state, therefore, it is more of a descriptive literature review that suggests ways for scholars to bring about formal theory in the future.

Important Insight: Skocpol (re)introduces the concept of the bureaucratic structure in her definition of the “state”, comprised of individual actors with various interests and levels of expertise. Assigning specific roles and preferences to the bureaucracy (both as a whole and on a micro-level) had been absent from political science’s assessment of the state and the policy-making community.

Critique: Skocpol’s description of the state is somewhat underspecified. It is unclear whether she is referring to the legislative or policy-making structure, the bureaucracy, interest groups or a combination of several actors.

  • Initial focus on society-centred explanations; government not taken as a separate actor
  • Weber: administrative, legal, extractive and coercive organisations are the core of any state [7]
  • States stand at the intersections of domestic socio-political orders and transnational relations [8]
  • Skocpol looks at state autonomy arguments and capacities of states as actors trying to realise policy goals  states impact content and workings of politics [8]
  • Heclo: civil service administrators have made more important contributions to government policy than political parties and interest groups [11]
  • State autonomy is not a fixed structure  crises may precipitate actions [14]
  • Autonomous actions will take forms that reinforce authority, political longevity and social control of state organisation [15]