Articulating Theories of States and State Formation




Some historical sociologists have, with some justification, described the development of the sub-discipline in the language of three successive “waves.” This framing implies that each wave supercedes the other across time. Given that second and third waves map onto generational distinctions, the whole idea of waves has been met with consternation from second wavers who are not ready to be superseded. In addition, there is some debate, if not confusion, over the criteria that define the waves. In this paper I suggest that the language of successive waves frustrates the potential to articulate different approaches with the aim of a more comprehensive understanding of historical societies. This is particularly the case with our understanding of states and state formation, which is the focus here. Instead of the waves framing, I suggest a strategy for articulating research agendas on state formation by conceiving of such in terms of their “centers of gravity” (or COGs)1 rather than their boundaries. I pay particular attention to the body of work that can be said to have a concern with culture as its center of gravity, a body of work that while overlapping considerably is not co-extensive with that identified as third wave. In this context I elaborate a broad conceptual architecture of culture, at the foundation of which is the distinction between meaning, practice, and materiality. This triangulated conceptualization of culture can, I argue, clarify some ambiguities in the literature and aid articulation of three COGs in state theory. In addition, I suggest that many questions taken to be theoretical are actually empirical. I conclude by briefly illustrating the approach in the case of science and modern state formation in Ireland.