Non-state reproduction of the state and the state’s symbolic power

Migdal and Schlichte provide a helpful distinction between ‘practices of the state’ and the ‘idea of the state’ to understand how the state administration can remain the main authority in a sector in which non-state actors are the main drivers of education delivery.12 ‘Practices of the state’ involve ‘the diverse, multiple actions of state actors as well as the myriad responses and interactions with state officials of non-state actors’.13 What are commonly understood as key state practices such as delivering security or primary education, are not nested neatly in government institutions but are also produced by a range of actors. These ‘practices of the state’ should be separated from the ‘idea of the state’, which Migdal and Schlichte view as the globalized image of the state as a ‘coherent, controlling organization in a territory, which is a representation of the people bounded by that territory’.14 This means that although practices such as financing and regulating education services might be located beyond the state administration, the ‘idea of the state’ as a unity can survive and evolve, though it also can be unmade. In other words, ‘the state’ is a construct that is produced and unmade by different actors over time. To become ‘real’ it needs to constantly be enacted and (re)produced. This is done in a variety of ways and through a multitude of platforms. On this latter point, Mitchell argues that the state ‘is presented and reproduced in visible everyday forms, such as the language of legal practices, the architecture of public buildings, the wearing of military uniforms, or the marking out and policing of frontiers’.15

Thus, it is important not only that the state administration is involved in the reproduction of the state as an idea, but also that a variety of non-state actors are also involved in these processes. As Lund puts it: ‘public authority becomes the amalgamated result of the exercise of power by a variety of local institutions and the imposition of external actors, conjugated with the idea of the state’.16 The importance of non-state actors in practices of delivering public services is not a new observation. In the last ten years, a flurry of concepts and insights have been introduced to refer to these insights. Empirically grounded concepts such as ‘hybrid political order’17 ‘real governance’18 and ‘negotiated statehood’19 all refer to non-state engagement in the production of statehood. Put differently, the ‘idea of the state’ is the outcome of ongoing actions by multiple competing and co-operating actors, of which the state administration is only one.20 For example, Hagmann and Peclard’s ‘negotiated statehood’ argues that ‘the state’ – or statehood – is constantly negotiated between state and non-state actors in different arenas.21 The negotiated nature of ‘the state’ means that (re)productions are often, though not always, conflictual, and always the outcome of interactions. An important consequence of this situation is that both state and non-state actors possess various degrees of power. Particularly interesting for this paper is Bourdieu’s notion of symbolic power, which he defines as a power of constituting the given through utterances, of making people see and believe, of conforming or transforming the vision of the world and, thereby, action on the world and thus the world itself, an almost magical power which enables one to obtain the equivalent of what is obtained through force.22


Power, from this perspective, is not an exercise of physical and coercive force, but is more subtle, though equally effective. In other words, while the state administration does not necessarily have the financial or administrative power to organize the education sector, it remains able to co-shape the sector. Symbolic power gives the state ‘the power to determine the situation in which the interactions that comprise the negotiated order take place’.23 This means that the state administration, despite not being very present, has a special ‘almost magical power’ to shape the delivery of public services.24

Symbolic power has a temporal dimension. The symbolic power of the state does not emerge abruptly but is accumulated over time. Loveman makes a distinction between two phases. The first is the ‘primitive accumulation of symbolic power’, referring to the struggles between different actors which have led to the establishment of political order (i.e. a state). As she makes clear: ‘[w]ith the accumulation of symbolic power, the institutional reality of the state becomes naturalized’.25 The second phase is the ‘routine exercise of symbolic power’, which is the ‘specific mechanisms and techniques the state employs to get the job done’ and these ‘begins when activities that were once controversial […] are no longer challenged’.26 For example, routine exercise of symbolic power could be seen in collecting tax or issuing licenses for schools.

The use of the routine exercise of symbolic power does not mean that methods and practices in the education domain are no longer contested. The main issue is that the ‘idea’ of the state as the overall authority in the education sector has stabilized, or ‘naturalized’ as Loveman puts it.27 Weber calls this phenomenon the transformation from coercion or power into domination authority based on obedience and recognition rather than physical force.28 In other words, non-state actors adhere to the state framework, not because they are forced to, but because they accept the state’s authority. This has been widely looked at in terms of legitimacy: ‘state-building is seen as a process of accumulating “basic legitimacies” by the state’ in which the state legitimizes its authority.29 Migdal and Schlichte’s ‘state practices’ are part of this dynamic: a variety of actors, and more particularly non-state actors, adhere to the state, and reproduce the state framework, policies, symbols, and so on.30

Lastly, given the way in which the paper analyses the interaction between state and nonstate actors, it is worth examining how boundaries between ‘state’ and ‘non-state’ are understood and constructed – something which Gupta, by relying on Nandy,31 calls the ‘imperialism of categories’.32 Gupta argues that public discourses and everyday practices of ordinary people ‘meshes the imagined trans-local institution with its localized blurred boundaries embodiments’.33 In other words, while the state is constructed as an imagined coherent entity through public discourse, everyday practices of lower-level public servants blur distinctions between state and non-state. Mitchell is particularly useful in further unpacking this boundary.34 He argues that ‘the state’ is a line drawn internally ‘within the network of institutional mechanisms through which a certain social and political order is maintained’.35 For example, corporate banking groups, government treasuries, export-import banks, international monetary organizations and so on are part of ‘interlocking networks of financial power and regulation’.36 While a clear-cut state-society division is difficult to make in this context, banks present themselves as private institutions, clearly different from the state. In doing so, a particular order is maintained – in this case, financial and economic, but this also holds for social and political boundaries. The state’s boundary, therefore ‘never marks a real exterior’,37 but instead is actively produced and maintained. This boundary, as Mitchell argues ‘does not mark the limit of the processes of regulation. It is itself a product of those processes’.38 In these circumstances, the state itself should be seen as an ‘effect’, more concretely of ‘mundane processes of spatial organization, temporal arrangement, functional specification, supervision and surveillance, and representation’.39

In this paper, we engage with and build further on the above insights. First, we argue how the engagement of non-state actors with the ‘idea’ of the state not only has a passive side: non-state actors also engage actively in state practices and the reproduction of the state. Second, in doing so, we show how the boundary between state and non-state is being actively reproduced by a range of actors, and how the state itself is an effect of these processes, particularly the ways in which these actors coalesce to deliver education services. The remainder of this article looks at how these processes play out in Somaliland.

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