Based on a comparative study of socio-political networks and state strategies in Northern Norway and Southern Italy, this article argues that state strategies and capacity play an important role in determining the structure and impact of social networks on regional development. Similar in their choice of policy regimes and active distribution of resources to their lagging peripheries, Italy and Norway display very different informal networks between socio-political actors as well as development characteristics. These differences in social networks and development can be traced back to the willingness and ability of state actors to entrench themselves at the centre of the socio-political networks in the regions. Their ability is constrained by the social networks themselves, hemmed in by past history of nation-building and is in essence a picture of the legitimacy of the state. State openness towards mobilising social groups enables it to keep control over the mobilisation process and build for itself a central role in social networks. State closeness towards mobilising social groups brings with it the danger that alternative elites will build alternative social networks on the different territories they control – networks in which the state will play a less central role. The cases illustrate the pros and cons of both types of state strategies, and form a good basis for a discussion of the optimal mix of state intervention and local social organisation in development.