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-  2019 

Performative State

DOI: 10.1177/0003122419831228

Keywords: agency theory,power,rebellion,federal government,political sociology

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How do proto-state organizations achieve an initial accumulation of power, such that they are in a position to grow (or shrink) as an organization, maintain their prestige (or lose it), and be viewed, by elite and populace, as something real and consequential that can be argued about, supported, or attacked? This article argues that state-formation has a performative dimension, in which the publicity of acts of violence, coercion, and negotiation made by agents of the proto-state, and the variable interpretation of these acts, are paramount to the state’s success (or failure) and developing character. In the model developed here, agents of a would-be state act in response to emergencies, and when public interpretations of those actions assign their character and effectiveness to “the state,” the state is performed into being. In particular, public performance solves, in part, agency problems obtaining between state rulers and their staff and elite allies. The formation of the federal government in the early American republic (1783 to 1801), whose success is insufficiently accounted for by extant theory, provides an opportunity to develop a model of the performative dimension of state-formation


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