The Odyssey of the Regulatory State: From a “Thin” Monomorphic Concept to a “Thick” and Polymorphic Concept


  • David Levi-Faur

  • I am grateful for comments and suggestions on previous versions of this article from Hila Bar-Ner, Sharon Gilad, Hanan Haber, Arie Krampf, Deborah Mabbett, Motti Talias, Clifford Shearing, as well as from three anonymous referees and Nancy Reichman. The article was written during a research leave at the The Kolleg-Forschergruppe (KFG) “The Transformative Power of Europe.” I am grateful for the hospitality of its directors, Tanja A. Börzel and Thomas Risse. All usual disclaimers apply.

Address correspondence to David Levi-Faur, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Department of Political Science, Mount Scopus, Jerusalem, Israel, 91905. Telephone: 972-2-5880498; E-mail:


This article assesses the “odyssey” of the regulatory state from a mere American thin and monomorphic concept to a global, thick and polymorphic concept that captures some of the more important features of the capitalist–democratic state. The burgeoning literature on the regulatory state presents a confusing number of images and characterizations that are increasingly conflicting, and it too often presents a monomorphic conception of the regulatory state. The article suggests that we need to define the regulatory state rather than merely characterizing it. And we need to do so in a manner that will allow us to move beyond the specific institutional features of a certain era, nation, region, or sector. Rather than contrasting regulation with distribution and redistribution, and contrasting the regulatory state with other forms of state, I treat the regulatory state as one morph of the polymorphic capitalist state, a morph that may help constitute other morphs (such as the welfare state and the developmental state) instead of replacing them. This in turn may help remove the artificial walls between the regulatory scholarly community and other social scientists, and promote more fruitful social science.