Research concept
Research programme 2011-2014
Research programme 2003-2006
Project area
Lead questions
Research center
  Deutsche Version  
DFG-Application 2003-2006

Please note
The literature referred to in the texts can be found in the bibliography

Approach, research objective and structure of the research center

At first glance, what the state accomplishes is extraordinary: it regulates the labour market, steers the economy, fights crime, provides education, regulates traffic, gives a framework to democracy, owns businesses, enters war, provides legal security, supports social welfare, collects taxes and distributes around 50 percent of the gross national product, imposes military service, maintains the Health Care System, represents national interests and regulates large areas of daily life. In view of this broad array of powers, the prime of the democratic welfare state has been referred to, with pointed exaggeration, as the "golden age" of modern times (Jürgen Habermas). On closer inspection, however, some ambivalence becomes apparent: the modern state is at once the primary threat to and the central guarantor of human rights; it is at the same time the primary promoter of and greatest obstacle to economic growth; and it is both the primary threat to and the central guarantor of the territorial integrity of a national society. From this perspective, the dictum of Wolfgang Reinhard (2002b:49) appears to hold: "He who knows how the state operates no longer believes in the state". At any rate, it is safe to say that basic social values like peace, legal security, political self-determination and social welfare have come to be seen as existing in symbiotic connection with the modern state. No other political institution has such a lasting influence on the life chances of human beings.

The end of the Democratic Constitutional Interventionist State?
The voices that predict the end of the Western Democratic Constitutional Interventionist State (DCIS) are therefore of more than just academic interest. Some management experts and economists see the welfare state, and even the state itself, as a political form of organisation that is under pressure from economic globalization (see Drucker 1994; Siebert 1999a; Sinn 1998, 200; Thorow 1992; and as regards the room for manoeuvre of the European tax state Genser 1999a, b). The management expert Ohmae (1995) sees a future for at best only a small "regional state" with minimal economic functions. Legal experts emphasize that international courts, like the European Court of Justice (ECJ) or the Dispute Settlement Body of the World Trade Organisation, undermine sovereignty (i.e. Bogdandy 2001; Denninger 2000; Joerges 1996; Frank 1992; Jackson 2000), and that constitutionalisation processes are taking place beyond the nation state (e.g Frowein 2000; Petersmann 1995; Pernice 2000a, b; Weiler 1999a, b). Sociologists point out that individualisation and the Europeanization of societies are dissolving the social cement of the nation state, and that subnational identities in particular could become increasingly important (Gerhards 1993, 1999; Honneth 1995; Heitmeyer 1999; Münch 2000). Some political scientists see a challenge to nationally organised democracy in newly developed multi-level systems, such as the European Union, the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund, (Benz/Eberlein 1999; Brock 1999, 2000, Esser 1998, 1999; Guéhenno 1994; Scharpf 1993, 1999; Zürn 1992, 1998). Others see the challenge in globalisation per se; an example would be the European partial-globalisation in the Eastern enlargement of the EU and the resulting "expansion crisis" (Vobruba 2000, 2001).

Perspectives of the Democratic Constitutional Interventionist State
At the same time, there are those in economics, law, sociology and political science for whom the democratic interventionist state is by no means an outdated model. Political scientists point out that democracy, as a form of governance, is more widespread than ever, and provides a general orientation for the good functioning of politics (see Huntington 1991; Esty 1998 among others). Against the thesis of a loss of meaning in economic policy, they argue that the welfare state, while admittedly under pressure, has nevertheless extended its social security system (Garret 1998, 1997; Pierson 2001, 2002; Rieger/Leibfried 1997, 2003; Rodrick 1996), which is in fact necessary to cope with the effects of globalization (Roderick 1996; Vobruba 2001). Sociologists emphasise that individualisation has led to a different, but by no means weaker, social cement in the second modernity than in the first modernity (Beck 1998; Beck/Sopp 1997). Moreover, the majority opinion among legal scholars still connects law to the nation state's legitimate monopoly of force (Maastricht judgment of the Federal Constitutional Court, see Mayer 2000, and see Horn 2001, e.g., for an introduction). Some political scientists claim that the public monopoly of force has only now been completely achieved (Thomson/Krasner 1989; Krasner 1999a, b), and that multi-level systems like the EU and the WTO do not reduce the sovereignty of the nation state, but instead express a new raison d'état (Moravcsik 1994; Rieger 1995b; Wolf 2000).

What is the matter with the state? Recent studies on the development of the DCIS reveal a mixed picture. The emerging majority position appears to be that statehood in the OECD has not become obsolete, but has been subject to transformation since the end of the 1970s. This position remains underdeveloped, and does not rest on systematic empirical research with generally recognized conceptual tools. Nobody knows, therefore,

  • how the state is currently being transformed,
  • in what ways it is being transformed,
  • and what the causes and consequences of state transformation are.

These deficits in research on the development of statehood can be detected in all areas of social and political science research, in which the prevalence and continued application of methodological nationalism - that is, of the focus on the nation state as the central political and social unit (Beck 2001; Zürn 2002b) - continues to be a largely unquestioned analytical premise. An appropriate understanding of transformations of statehood, and the development of appropriate theoretical concepts, are of vital importance for the social and political sciences, and these must be in line with the empirical evidence in order to be able to serve as building blocks in the successful formation of new theories (Mayntz 2002).

The concept of the CRC
According to Caporaso (2000:4), the confusion in contemporary analyses of basic processes of change can be traced back to three early conceptional decisions with far-reaching consequences: overabstraction, overaggregation and dichotomisation. In this research programme of the CRC we will try to avoid:

  1. overabstraction, by linking our concept of statehood to a constellation that, while stylized and idealized, is nevertheless historical and realistic;
  2. overaggregation in the use of the term statehood, by dividing it into several dimensions that will be separately analyzed;
  3. a simple dichotomous description of the shift to a slightly "stronger" or "weaker" nation state. Instead, various forms of the transformation of statehood and their threshold values will be assessed.

The four main dimensions of modern statehood
The DCIS is the specific historical institutionalisation of an imagined ideal type of statehood, in which four central dimensions of statehood have merged (see f.e. Rokkan 1975):

  1. The monopolization of the means of force and of tax collection within a specific territory has resulted in the modern territorial state.
  2. A recognition that the state is internally bound by its laws and may not intervene externally in the laws of other states has made the sovereign constitutional state possible.
  3. The formation of a common national identity - the people within the territory of a state consider themselves a community, and this is linked to the claim for political self-determination - has lead to the democratic nation state.
  4. The recognition of the goal to increase wealth and to distribute it fairly has led to the development of a social interventionist state.

The central characteristic of the DCIS, at least in the OECD world of the 1960s and 1970s, is that these four institutional aspects of modern statehood merged and supported each other in one political organisation. Thus the DCIS came to be distinguished by a special accentuation of "territoriality" or "space" as a central organizing principle. The role of territoriality as an organizing principle has intensified over the course of the development of the DCIS, so that historiographers now consider the concept a potential basis for demarcating historical phases in the modern era (Maier 2000). The fully developed DCIS drew a sharp spatial dividing line between inside and outside, which was largely determined by the borders of the national territory. A relatively clear organisational line also divided the public from the private spheres. These separate elements can be seen as constituting a "national constellation" (Habermas 1998). Because these different dimensions of statehood supported each other (cf Senghaas 1994), we can refer to them as a "synergetic constellation".

How does statehood reconfigure?
This synergetic constellation provides the framework of the DCIS and what one can call the "corridor" of modern statehood. Within this corridor, there are considerable differences between the specific institutional forms the DCIS have taken. These differences, along each of the four dimensions of statehood mentioned above, have led to a variety of different typologies of OECD states. As we conceive it, a transformation of statehood takes place when either the general corridor of tasks, competences, resources and different forms of discharging duties of the DCIS is changed fundamentally or when types of statehood are transformed within the corridor; that is, the breadth of the corridor (the variation among regimes) decreases.

An investigation into transformations of statehood must take all the dimensions into consideration. With respect to each of the four aforementioned institutional dimensions of the DCIS, one must first ask whether spatial or organisational movements or misalignments can be observed.

In a synergetic constellation, however, a change in one dimension does not necessarily imply a transformation of statehood. Therefore, transformations of statehood cannot be adequately studied in a single research project. A wider research context is required, in which different research projects, based on a division of labour, are discursively interconnected. Only thus can one investigate transformations in the DCIS constellation.

The basic working assumption of this research collaboration is that the four dimensions of statehood no longer merge exclusively in the specific organisational form of the DCIS. The question is, rather: How is statehood being reconfigured? We conceive of a deviation from the DCIS in one dimension as a shift. Thus, for example, we would refer to an extensive privatisation of social welfare systems in all welfare states as a shift in the intervention dimension. To the extent that there are differences in the direction and speed of shifts in the different dimensions, asynchronous processes, or what we refer to as defibration, occurs. For example, if statehood is privatized in the intervention dimension and internationalized in the legal dimension, we can speak of a defibration of statehood. Defibration processes, which result in new constellations with synergetic effects, represent a reconfiguration of statehood.

The three principal questions
Against this conceptual background, three principle questions will be dealt with:

  1. How can transformations of statehood be adequately described?
    1. A first lead question will ask whether the DCIS, as an expression of the national constellation, is systematically "defibrating"; whether the aforementioned dimensions of statehood, which have so far been unified at the level of the nation-state, are shifting in different directions.
    2. What reconfiguration of statehood do these asynchronous shifts appear to be leading to?
    3. Or do the basic characteristic features of statehood in the OECD world in the 1970s remain unchanged as a national constellation?
  1. If a transformation of statehood can be demonstrated empirically, the following question will arise: What are its causes? The second lead question is, therefore:
    1. Do general processes of change - like globalization, individualisation, functional differentiation or the shift to a service economy - systematically speed up the transformation of statehood in the various dimensions, and can additional or more specific explanatory factors be found?
    2. Or is it impossible to systematically connect observed changes to general processes of change?
    3. It is certainly not to be expected that all transformations of statehood will take place in the same way. How can differences be explained?
    4. A supplementary lead question asks whether transformations of statehood evolve differently in the different institutional structures of different states or whether change takes place in similar ways in all states.
  1. What are the effects of the transformations of statehood?
    1. The third lead question asks whether transformations of statehood have a negative impact on the production of social goods like security, legal equality, self-determination and social welfare.
    2. Or are their effects on the supply of these basic social goods neutral or even positive?

The concept of political science
Only an interdisciplinary research group can adequately investigate transformations of statehood because the different dimensions of the synergetic constellation can best be analysed from the perspective of different disciplines. Therefore, we use Bleek's (2001) concept of "state sciences". While in political science the state, or the "political system", is the primary object of examination and is of interest in all its dimensions, the other state-scientific disciplines tend to have a more specific focus. At the Collaborative Research Center, the interest of legal scholars is primarily focused on the dimension of the constitutional state. The sociologists in the Center will pay particular attention to the dimensions of the democratic nation state and the social interventionist state. The latter dimension will also be of particular interest to the Center's economists. Our general research perspective makes the DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) Collaborative Research Center model particularly suitable for our research.
Through our research center we expect to obtain knowledge about the causes and effects of transformations of statehood. This knowledge will:

  1. lead to a reconceptualisation of one of the basic theoretical cornerstones of the political and social sciences and, therefore, help in overcoming methodological nationalism;
  2. be useful, praxeologically, for the institutional reorganisation of governance structures to promote peace, legal security, democracy and social welfare.

Read on: Dimensions of Statehood