Lee-Roy Chetty
Lee-Roy Chetty

Understanding state-society connectedness

Today a general consensus prevails that sustainable development and security rely on legitimate and effective governments that can provide basic services to their populations and be held accountable both to their citizens and to the international community.

In fragile situations, where state capacity is weak or has broken down, the international response in most cases has been state building—increasing the capacity of the state to provide core services, including security and justice.

That is, given adequate capacity, the state will be able to provide public services effectively through rule-based, meritocratic, and politically accountable public agencies.

According to this logic, a capable state objectively assesses the needs of its citizens from a set of predetermined criteria for what it deems good for the population and identifies and applies a technical solution.

Although no one contests that the state is pervasive—there are not many communities in the world today where the state has not penetrated and had an effect on society in one way or the other.

Many scholars argue that the state is not able to, and should not strive to, exercise power in an unadulterated and coherent manner independently from society. States may have unmistakable administrative strengths in penetrating society, however, they are surprisingly weak in effecting goal oriented social changes.

Moreover, the assumption of a stable state does not explain how it derives its coercive power and how it survives. It is only through exploring how social order comes about that we can reach a more fundamental understanding of the relationship between state and society and how a state can be sustained.

Recognition is growing that the state is entwined with society in a mutually dependent relationship, and the quality of the relationship determines the state’s ability to direct change.

Scholars across a range of disciplines and theoretical perspectives assert that groups in society offer fundamental elements of support to the state, and, likewise, the state provides critical elements for collective action in society.

Indeed, a state needs legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens to be able to perform its function and that legitimacy needs to be ingrained in the beliefs of the citizens. In other words, state legitimacy is embedded in the social infrastructure rather than in the mechanics of bureaucracy.

The idea that the state and society are interdependent underlies the concept of citizenship.

The citizen–state relationship implies mutual responsibility between the state and citizens and provides certain norms for how citizens should treat one another. The state is the bearer of the rights of citizens.

The state promises to provide legal standing to all citizens and basic services, including security, while citizens promise to remain loyal to the state and abide by the laws of the state. Citizens also feel an affiliation with a broader community and accept certain responsibility for the collective good.

The state–society relationship therefore, is one of mutual interdependence.

The state is not an autonomous authority; rather it is a social actor in constant evolution through its interactions with groups in society.

Various interactions are possible.

The state can prey on different social groups; the state and society can collaborate productively on some issues; an authoritarian state can leave little space for society to influence governance; and so on. When the state is viewed in this way, it becomes clear that effective state institutions are the product of a high-quality state– society relationship.

The relationship between quality institutions and desired development outcomes is now also well established.

What is less understood is exactly how the state–society relationship translates into more effective institutions. Which factors matter most in improving the quality of the relationship, such that it translates to better institutions? What types of societal dynamics can derail progress in building good institutions?

No simple formula exists for improving the state–society relationship, but solid evidence indicates that building social cohesion is a critical component.

How true this hypothesis is in the current context of our country, South Africa.

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    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Bantu Culture did not function on any State-Society level at all, but on a system of the bartering of favours (i.e. bribes).

      In his book “Witchdoctor’s Son-in-Law”, set in Botswana, Phil Deutch writes that this system was so complex, with favours often being paid back months or years later, that he never could work it out.

      The books of Alexander MacCall Smith, also set in Botswana, about the No 1 Ladies Detective Club, also show this owing of favours eg the Matron of the Orphanage continually bribes the mechanic to fix her broken equipment by giving him a fruit cake.

      Robert Calderisi in his book “The Trouble With Africa” writes that this complex web of what he calls family obligations is one of the main reasons for educated young blacks emigrating from Africa.

      OBVIOUSLY if you teach Blacks they are “Entitlled” to a job because they were “Disadvantaged” by Whites, Whites will owe them bribes for every job done whether the issuing of a driver’s licence or a roadworthy certificate!

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      All Peasant Societies have this Barter Culture

      Which, in my opinion, is one of the reasons for the resistance in Spain, Portugal, France, Italy and Greece, which are cultures strongly attached to their rural roots, to being “Germanised” by the EU.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Does the Labola Culture inhibit Black Farming?

      I have always understood that Labola is held by the Father for the Daughter and he must give it back if she does not like the man and returns to her parents. According to Ms Foxcroft in her book “More Sugar” Labola cattle must be kept by the family to sell if the woman is ill or needs money.

      But storing all that cattle “In Trust” takes all the land and does not serve any purpose if they all eventually die of old age, or get poached or cattle raided.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Bantu Culture was also a Peasant Culture which operated on a system of the bartering of favours (i.e. bribes).

      In his book “Witchdoctor’s Son-in-Law”, set in Botswana, Phil Deutch writes that this system was so complex, with favours often being paid back months or years later, that he never could work it out.

      The books of Alexander MacCall Smith, also set in Botswana, about the No 1 Ladies Detective Club, also show this owing of favours eg the Matron of the Orphanage continually bribes the mechanic to fix her broken equipment by giving him a fruit cake.

      Robert Calderisi in his book “The Trouble With Africa” writes that this complex web of what he calls family obligations is one of the main reasons for educated young blacks emigrating from Africa.

      OBVIOUSLY if you teach Blacks they are “Entitled” to a job because they were “Disadvantaged” by Whites, Whites will owe them bribes for every job done whether the issuing of a driver’s licence or a roadworthy certificate!

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Labola in CATTLE wastes the Land!

      Unless the Cattle are farmed for meat or dairy (which are 2 DIFFERENT kinds of cattle), or Labola is in something else like Gold (Indian Bride Prices) or Money.

    • http://www.resurgentrisk.biz Jasmine Opperman

      And this takes it back to Prof B Buzan’s idea in People, States and Fear in which the idea of the state is presented as fundamental to domesic security and statehood. The society-state complex is reflected in diversity in which agreed upon values and expectations are usually framed and gated to sectors of society. The manner in which states maintain effective and effecient governance depends on its ability to transcend these differences without cohesive limitations, for these values seldom can expect compromise by these sectors. The complex is also illustrated in the constructive nature of such values, with evolutionary change a latent reality. And all this requires a re-look at the importance of education in which demcratic responsibility is embedded to transmute active citizenship to transcend into a productivist belief to the benefit of not only the “I” but the “All of us” .

    • http://roryshort.blogspot.com/ Rory Short

      Looking at culture is a useful aid to understanding the current situation but it is completely wrong if we treat what we find as an immutable fact going forward. Surely we need to accept the fact that our understanding both of human beings and the societies that they create is constantly developing and we should thus keep moving, where we would like society to get to, in the light of the growing new knowledge.

    • Loudly South African

      Chetty might have unpacked the “security” that the state is meant to supply.

      Certainly, for the millions in the townships who turn to mob vigilante justice and cower in their shacks while the blue light brigades flash by and the hundreds of thousands in the suburbs who turn to private security companies and cower in their homes while the blue light brigades flash by, the state is not doing a very good job.

      On the other hand, for the Gang of Six safe and sound at Luthuli House (except for being voted out) and the ministers surrounded by red-necktied men-in-black and driving their million-rand “wheels” security seems to require the state security apparatus to spend more time and money spying on members of the New-ANC than it did prior to ’94. Then there is the need for bunkers at J783’s R238m-harem.

      So much for security.

      The justice system does seem to be limping along, but soon the J783 slate of judges, prosecutors, police chiefs, security bosses, SABC honchos, HRC commissioners and Media Tribunalists will ensure that this, too, serves the needs of the predatory state and is dedicated to lining the pockets of the Connected and Protected.

    • Momma Cyndi

      If we go back to basics then democracy is ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’. That puts the onus directly on the citizenry. A monarchy is ‘absolute sovereignty of a single person’

      Unfortunately, we act a lot more like a monarchy than a democracy. We elect ‘kinglets’ instead of servants. We serve them instead of demanding that they serve us. SA is a very young democracy and it is going to take us time to figure out that WE are the bosses and not the serfs. Our history and cultures don’t encourage us to shoulder the yoke of responsibility but, I feel, we are getting there.