Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

The state is the political organisation of the economically dominant class (or group) that aims to retain the existing economic status quo.

explanatory context

The state opposes resistance from non-dominant groups through its control of various repressive and ideological agencies. The state thus operates as an oppresive mechanism to maintain the dominance of one class or group over others.

analytical review

Kukathas (2008) explains the concept of a state as follows:

A state is a form of political association or polity that is distinguished by the fact that it is not itself incorporated into any other political associations, though it may incorporate other such associations. The state is thus a supreme corporate entity because it is not incorporated into any other entity, even though it might be subordinate to other powers (such as another state or an empire). One state is distinguished from another by its having its own independent structure of political authority, and an attachment to separate physical territories. The state is itself a political community, though not all political communities are states. A state is not a nation, or a people, though it may contain a single nation, parts of different nations, or a number of entire nations. A state arises out of society, but it does not contain or subsume society. A state will have a government, but the state is not simply a government, for there exist many more governments than there are states. The state is a modern political construction that emerged in early modern Europe, but has been replicated in all other parts of the world. The most important aspect of the state that makes it a distinctive and new form of political association is its most abstract quality: it is a corporate entity.


Elwell's Glossary of Sociology (undated) defines state as:

Government institutions ruling over a given territory, whose authority is backed by law and the ability to use force.

associated issues


related areas

See also



Elwell's Glossary of Sociology, undated, available at, page not available 20 December 2016.
Kukathas, C., 2008, A Definition of the State, London School of Economics, available at, accessed 4 May 2013, still available 28 December 2016, page not available 14 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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