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date: 04 October 2022

Civilization and Statehoodlocked

Civilization and Statehoodlocked

  • Andrew DelatollaAndrew DelatollaUniversity of Leeds

Summary

The modern state is often discussed within the context of its domestic institutions and structures or as a product that is shaped by the international system. From these discussions, attempts to define and theorize statehood have led to assumptions that the modern state is a universal product, sharing structural and normative similarities across geographies and societies. However, many of these assumptions are developed from the unique histories of European state formation and statehood, from which an ideal type is produced. By looking at these histories in relation to the global transformations of the 19th century, it is possible to interrogate how conceptions of modern statehood—derived from European histories and experiences—have been consistently upheld as a civilizational benchmark for other, non-European and non-Western states, to achieve.

Beginning with a discussion on European state formation, it is evident that the conceptions and frameworks of statehood—including the development of national identities, territorialization, institutions, and organizing and ordering mechanisms, often discussed in the abstract—are the products of particular historic normative, structural, and institutional developments. These histories lay the foundation for how the modern state has been conceived, theorized, and framed, affecting not just Europe but global politics. The article subsequently discusses how modern statehood, based on the European experience of state formation, became a benchmark of civilization. Upholding statehood as the pinnacle of social, political, and economic development and progress in comparison to the underdeveloped “nature” of societies and polities outside of Europe, imperialism, and colonialism was considered a justified practice. In the first instance, the uncivilized character of societies and polities outside of Europe became entangled in racial-biological explanations of social and political development, supposedly confirming scientific racist explanations of underdevelopment. In the second instance, imperialism and colonialism were tethered to 19th-century civilizing projects, a means to organize societies and polities in a manner that reflected or mimicked the European state. While the discourses related to imperialism and colonialism, along with scientific racism, became outmoded in the 20th century, they remained apparent in practices associated with the League of Nations mandate state system, development, and state building. In the context of these practices, the concept and framing of modern statehood, as an abstract and ideal type founded on European histories of state formation, continued to be used as a benchmark for international recognition and a measurement for progress and development. Charting the continued relationship between civilization and statehood, the case of Palestine is explored, examining the politics and discourses of civilization related to statehood and Palestinian nonrecognition.

Subjects

  • International Relations Theory
  • Political Sociology

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