Weber’s Definition of the State as an Ethnographic Tool for Understanding the Contemporary Political Science State of the Discipline
Canadian Political Science Association, May 2011
14 Pages Posted: 26 Apr 2011
Date Written: April 26, 2011
Max Weber‘ definition of the state as a human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory (Weber, 1946) is widely used in the contemporary political science; there is hardly a more frequently used quotation. Authors that only use or fully belong to positivist and hermeneutical epistemologies alike, and from quantitative to qualitative methodologies, not to mention different theoretical backgrounds, from realist to liberal in the international relations and from society-based to state-based in the comparative politics may equally claim allegiance to it, each with an accent on particular element: force, legitimacy, or monopoly. The quasi-universal use of this quotation reflects the new state of political science as a discipline, a Weberian concensus.
In this paper I sketch the political science contemporary state of the discipline, including the power distribution within it, by looking at the different ways of interpreting the original Weberian definition. Methodologically, instead of providing quantifiable data, I look at the power struggle to integrate the definition within one particular theoretical paradigm. I claim that Weber has ceased to be uniquely a source of theoretical inspiration and innovation; instead, he has become a charismatic and uncritical tool of power distribution within the discipline. Ironically, I may say, using his words that any theoretical domination from now on should successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of Weber within political science.
Keywords: Max Weber, political science, ethnography, state, legitimacy, monopoly, force
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