Institutions-the state (in practice)

Week 8

Learning Objectives

  1. Describe four components in the management of the state: security, governance, economy, and society.

  2. Describe the different branches of government and their essential functions

  3. Understand the different functions of government within presidential and parliamentary systems

Special opportunity – police and social work ?

Class coordinators

Team 3


After the origin and characteristics of the state, we will consider how states work, and in particular the essential functions of government has they have evolved in the modern era.


We’ll begin with a mnemonic picture of the basic functions of the state, society, and governance, which can take different empirical forms.  This model shows the relationships between the four functions of any form of government (E, L, A, J), the ‘steering wheel’ of governance, the role of political parties and other vehicles for the aggregation and articulation of interests, the concept sof civil society, public space, and political infrastructure (hardware and software) on which the relationship between government and society balances.


Then we’ll spend some time linking this model of government and governance to the other spheres of national life: the state’s putative monopoly on violence and the institutions of security; the formal, informal, and illegal economic activities that sustain life and governance; and the institutions of society that permit people to live together in trust and harmony, or which may also divide groups into hostile camps.


I’ll lecture on this subject and provide you with the mnemonics that I have found useful in dissecting what’s really happening in places like Bosnia, Sierra Leone, and the Mongolia.


For advanced students, consider the rivalry between state and non-state actors, particularly commercial corporations. Three members of US President Bill Clinton’s cabinet and national security team, seeing the US at the top of its game as the sole remaining superpower after the Cold War, gave some thought to the changing role of the state in a world of increasingly powerful transnational corporations. Philipp Bobbitt wrote about the emerging “market state” in Shield of Achilles.  Robert Reich wrote about the role of the state in educating and protecting citizens in globalized markets (The Work of Nations), and David Rothkopf more recently has written about the rivalry between states and corporations (attached below). More recently, Susan George has assembled a polemic attack on corporate erosion of state power.  You’ll find her chapter on transnational treaties below, along with discussion questions.

Learning objectives

  1. Describe four components in the management of the state: security, governance, economy, and society.
  2. Describe the different branches of government and their essential functions
  3. Understand the different functions of government within presidential and parliamentary systems

Required readings

Tremblay, ch.9

Scott, ch.12

Optional readings

Blythe, Mark (2012) Austerity: the history of a dangerous idea. London: Oxford University Press. Preface,  Smith brings the state back in.

George, Susan (2015)  Shadow Sovereigns: How Global Corporations are Seizing Power. Cambridge, UK: Polity. Chapter 2: “Transnational Treaties: Tailored by and for transnational corporations,

Harrison, K., & Hoberg, G. (1994). Risk, science, and politics: Regulating toxic substances in Canada and the United States. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Holmes, Ken (2012) Foreign Ownership Control and Influence in the 21st Century: Analysis of Risk, Technical, and Organizational Requirements. Ottawa: Industrial Security Sector, Public Works and Government Services.  Executive summary.

Jasanoff, S. (Ed.). (2004). States of knowledge: the co-production of science and the social order. Routledge.

Lukes, Steven (1974) Power: A Radical View. “Introduction” (A conceptual analysis of power) Toronto: Macmillan

Mirowski, Philip (2013) Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How neo-liberalism survived the financial meltdown. London: Vero. See the extract on agnotology and economics.

Reitman, Jason (2005) Thank you for Smoking, (Comedy, 92 minutes) offers a fun example of agnotology in practice.

Rothkopf, David (2012) Power, Inc: The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government – and the reckoning that lies ahead. Toronto: Viking. Introduction: Bodies but no souls.


Discuss actor and institution choices for Assignment 2.


Reducing the Verney article to a matrix would be a useful exercise if you want to bet on an exam question about parliamentary vs presidential government, but if you do this, make sure you are also giving some attention to self-assessment question 3.

Self-assessment questions

  1. Reproduce the mnemonic diagram of government and society functions.  What are the essential functions of government, and what distinguishes one from another?  How do they relate to society?  Where to military and police forces fit into the model?  Are they universal?  What happens when power is concentrated in one part of the governance structure at the expense of others
  2. What distinguishes presidential from parliamentary government, and why is this important?  Can you reduce the Verney article to a 3×11 matrix.
  3. Presidential and parliamentary systems are based on fundamentally different assumptions about the desirability of different characteristics of government, and they have evolved in different ways.  How did the prototypes originate, how have they evolved, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of each when it comes to governance?
  4. Does the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal represent another erosion of sovereign government, or an exercise of sovereignty in the pursuit of the public interest – prosperity and employment for the majority of citizens in the signing countries?  How convincing do you find the arguments of Susan George in the attached chapter, “Transnational Treaties: Tailored by and for transnational corporations” chapter 2 in Shadow Sovereigns: How Global Corporations are Seizing Power. (Cambridge: Polity, 2015). 


This week’s seminar will concentrate on self-assessment question 1, with a less time devoted to self-assessment question 3.


Weekly activities can be adjusted by class coordinators in consultation with the professor

Week 5 checklist of material

[1] Introduction from class coordinator – time allocation

[2] Current events of political significance (domestic, international) [60s]

[3] Review/amend focus of learning objectives  [5D]

[4] Key terms [5D, GLI]

[5] Mapping the Political Landscape [5D, GLI]

[6] External resources [class coordinator]

[7] Exam questions [5D, GLI]

[8] Looking ahead: next week’s class coordinator introduces (last 15 minutes)

Next up

Week 9, constitutions, rights, freedoms, and forms of political infrastructure.

David Last, updated September 2016