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This article seeks to re-conceptualise the notion of state capacity in order to develop a formulation that better approximates the realities of contemporary developing states. Four strands of argument are developed in the article. First, it identifies the critical factors shaping contemporary processes of state transformation, centred on analysing the significance of globalisation, democratisation, liberalisation and the new security agenda. Second, it interrogates the limitations of the dominant technocratic approach to state reform. Third, the article examines the limitations of approaches to state capacity building predicated on the ‘command-hierarchy’ approach, contrasting this with the ‘influence-network’ model centred on forms of engagement with multiple actors and institutions operating outside the boundaries of centralised, national states. Fourth, and in contrast to the influence-network approach, the article advances the notion of a spectrum of hybrid state forms, each associated with differing types of capacity that relate to the structural characteristics of contemporary states that are changing in response to globalisation and other exogenous factors.