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States: When, Why and How they Happen (LAWS90150)

Graduate courseworkPoints: 12.5On Campus (Parkville)

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Year of offer2019
Subject levelGraduate coursework
Subject codeLAWS90150
Availability(Quotas apply)
FeesSubject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date

States are important, as state-building exercises round the world indicate, yet there are regular suggestions that their significance is waning under pressure from globalisation externally and fragmentation internally. This subject examines this paradox from an internal perspective, addressing four main questions.

  • What do we mean by “state”?
  • Why do “states” arise (when they arise)?
  • How do they manage to establish themselves?
  • What problems do states face, and how do they try to overcome them?

To answer the questions, we have to consider political philosophy, history (including the meaning and purpose of history in state-making), the growth and operation of institutions, empires and decolonisation, the use of coercion in the functioning of states, the roles of constitutions, and the relationship between states on the international plane. We shall look at ideas of race and nation and their relationships to “state”, and undertake a number of case-studies, touching on Middle Kingdom Egypt through classical Greece and Rome, England since the fourth century CE, Ireland, the USA, Australia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Students will be encouraged to bring their own experiences and insights to the classes to illuminate the discussion.

Principal topics include:

  • Ways of understanding the term “state”: language, sociology, history, and the relevance of “nation” and “people”
  • Ways of legitimating state power: political theory and morality
  • Ways of holding society together: Bryce, Durkheim and Weber
  • Ways of establishing states: decolonisation, revolution, secession, international action
  • Histories, institutions, values, religions and constitutions.

Intended learning outcomes

A student who has successfully completed this subject will:

  • Have a sophisticated, integrated, advanced, evidence-based understanding of commonalities and reasons for differences between states
  • Have developed a sensitivity to complex, historical forces and be able to analyse their inter-relationships and management critically and creatively in the context of the life-cycles of states
  • Be able to reflect critically on the roles of different types of institutions in state-building and maintenance
  • Have an integrated understanding of the relationship between external and internal factors in the establishment of states
  • Have developed to an advanced level an ability to use historical, social, legal and philosophical methods in studying states
  • Be able to bring an informed, comparative, critical and reflective eye to questions concerning the existence, functioning and degradation of states, making appropriately critical and creative use of established theories and concepts
  • Be able independently to interpret social, political and historical trends in state-building and form and communicate ideas and apply them to new situations
  • Be able to transmit detailed understandings and ideas on these matters coherently, concisely and constructively to policy-makers, scholars, and a wider public audience
  • Be able to demonstrate their ability to apply their skills at an advanced level and with a high level of autonomy and accountability by way of a substantial research paper or take-home examination.

Last updated: 3 April 2019