• Rui Veras

Who is the state?

While sociologists like Max Weber, define “state” as a polity that maintains a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, I could argue that most citizens would define the state as the government of their own country. How do people feel about this social construct, and how do they feel it interferes with their lives?

Having grown up in Portugal and having moved to Holland, where I have spent most of my adult life, I have encountered different feelings about the “state”. On one hand, I encounter voices that refer to the "state" as an external entity (that often does not do enough for their wellbeing); on the other hand, I also perceive others for whom the "state" is more linked to a sense of community. Would a group of people perceive the “state” as themselves, with a sense of ownership that generates agency, and others as an entity external to them?

Once in a Portuguese countryside supermarket, the payment moment generated a conversation with a neighbour, that had just arrived, and the cashier. While I and my neighbour were arguing that we are the state. The cashier was vehemently against this feeling, arguing the "state" had not helped her when she felt she needed it, specifically in a divorce situation. Perhaps, feelings about who the state is are related to different social classes, according to if one feels more or less fortunate with the developments in their lives.


While both countries I live in are European democracies with advanced liberal legislation and a common maritime and colonial past, the religious traditions of both countries are different. Portugal has a catholic base and the Netherlands a protestant one. This is a very simple lookout of both countries. But would be interesting to investigate the differences in the answer to the question: Who is the state? Particularly as the Netherlands is perceived as a rich nordic economy and Portugal as a less fortunate southern Europe one. Could the perception of "who the state is" influence the different economic outcomes?

An interesting idea to explore in a series of interviews that I hope to record and present later in a documentary project which I’m about to embark on. Stay tuned.


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