The Definition of Statehood

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Before diving into the question of this essay, one that looks simple on the surface but reveals itself to be as complicated as it is deep, I found myself asking how we define “statehood”. It’s all good and well to say that the state is a contested organisation, but when the idea of what exactly a state is comes into it, that statement becomes all the less clear. By definition a nation state is a state/country that possesses clear borders and land, and contains mostly the same type of people by either race or cultural background. Yet some states have numerous ethnicities, Nigeria for example has been calculated to have over two hundred culturally distinct groups, even Gambia, whose population numbers about half a million people, has eight distinct ethnic groups (Hughes 1981: 122). Then again, these are both countries that are considered as “failed states”, something I will return to later on. According to Philip Cerny, statehood is the capacity to guard the social, economic and political life of its people and also to protect them from external threats and predators. He then goes on to say that states regularly fail at one of these tasks, often not doing well at both at the same time. Statehood, according to Cerny, is the “problématique of the modern world system itself”. Why?

Why are nation states so bad at doing what they say on the tin? Surely it can’t be that hard to defend one’s people and at the same time give them basic needs such as employment, welfare and education. Of course, the world isn’t a perfect place, and we have yet to reach the utopia dreamt of by our grandparents, but really does everything have to be so terrible? To be fair Cerny does give a good argument against that, and provides much evidence to show that the state is indeed a contested organisation. He argues that “future structural organisational developments will depend...
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