Four: Challenges to the state

Before launching into our analysis it is worth pausing to offer a brief definition of how the (non-ecological) state has traditionally been defined. Richards and Smith (2002: 39) identified six features which any modern state possesses.

There have been sustained challenges to the very definition of what constitutes the state – its boundaries and functions – over the past 30 years or so. The traditional definition listed in the box above is firmly ensconced within Westphalian thought, with an emphasis on the concept of the nation-state: state and national boundaries coincide with defined territories in real terms of space, place and national identity. In more recent times, what are sometimes called more post-modern and/or neoliberal and/or globalised interpretations of the state have challenged this orthodoxy, leading to more amorphous and disparate understandings of state forms, including cross-boundary and cross-sectoral interactions and interpretations. While research into states has changed considerably over the past generation, democratic reforms and innovations have not necessarily matched the degree of state restructuring. Later in this chapter, we show how these structural and democratic tensions have been greater in the Global South than in the Global North as, in the case of the former, these newer, globalised notions of governance have been even more hollowed out.

In environmental political thought, the state has long been treated with considerable suspicion (see also Chapter Eleven, this volume). Green theorists have been quick to identify the state as a source of environmental degradation, as well as social domination. Yet green political thought is currently in the process of revising this position in order to recognise the importance of the state for securing effective action on a range of environmental challenges.

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