Last modified on 7 August 2012, at 20:39

Saylor.org's Comparative Politics/Defining the State

Encounters with the StateEdit

by Georgina Blakeley and Michael Saward

Political order in everyday lifeEdit

Jill’s story... Jill lay awake in bed waiting for the alarm to ring, worrying about the day ahead. She already had a mental list of things to be done: renew the car’s MOT; make an appointment with the health visitor for her toddler’s two-year check-up. And there was the inspection they were facing at the school where Jill worked as a receptionist.

The sound of the alarm forced her out of bed and into the shower. Jill managed to leave the house on time, bundling her toddler into the car seat to take her to nursery. Just as she was leaving, the post arrived. Jill ignored the pile of envelopes; probably just more bills and tax demands. She drove the short distance to the nursery, taking care to avoid the potholes and the speed cameras, and left her toddler in the care of her favourite nursery nurse, Vicky.

On her journey to the school, a police car and two ambulances rushed past with their sirens blasting. The noise momentarily drowned out the politician on the radio who was droning on about the next local election. Waving at the lollipop lady, Joan, as she drove through the school gates, Jill braced herself for work. Mercifully, the busy morning passed quickly.

Jill gulped down a quick lunch at her desk while scanning the headlines of the newspaper that one of the inspectors had left behind. One headline declaring the arrival of the ‘Big Brother state’ turned out, rather disappointingly, to be about the possible introduction of identity cards rather than the reality TV show. Another headline, ‘Nanny state bans your chip butty’, reminded Jill too late that she had meant to choose the healthy option from the canteen rather than the bacon butty she had plumped for. One headline, however, held her attention: ‘More state help for parents: how to save money on childcare’. That’s something I really could do with, she thought.

Jill left her desk to dash to the local shops. She needed stamps from the post office; she wanted to join the new DVD rental club (she had remembered to bring proof of identity) and she had to buy a card and present for one of the teachers who was retiring after over thirty years at the school. They were all going to the local pub after work to celebrate. Roll on half-past three, Jill thought, as she headed out into the rain, cursing the weather forecast for being wrong yet again.

...

Jill’s story is in many ways a typical one. You might have had similar mornings yourself or, at the very least, you may recognise some of Jill’s experiences as familiar. What any of this has to do with ‘political ordering’ or ‘the state’ is perhaps less obvious. After all, this is just a simple account of someone’s (hectic) morning. And yet, during this account our protagonist encounters and experiences the state in numerous ways. Moreover, her experience is not unusual. As individuals, most of us will bump up against the state on a daily basis in many areas of our lives, although we might not always notice that we do so. This is because state actors, institutions, practices and discourses order (or try to order) our lives in various ways. The state is not the only mechanism that contributes to social order. Social order is produced and reinforced in various ways, but the state does provide an institutional political order that is one important part of the social order it (ideally) produces. In fact, we could argue that there are two types of political order:

1.the avoidance of chaos or disorder generally in society 2.institutions that regulate our lives in many small and large ways. The two are closely linked. The state is, among other things, an institutional order that aims to prevent social chaos and make social order. But where is the state in Jill’s everyday story?

First, there are the people who are employed by the state to carry out certain functions, such as the health visitor, the lollipop lady, the school inspectors and the teachers. The nursery nurse may be a state employee or she may be employed by a private nursery. Even if she is employed by a private nursery, however, she will still be providing childcare, an activity that is regulated by the state. Though they are not mentioned directly, there are state agents – people employed by a state institution, or in the public sector – behind some of the material objects mentioned, such as the speed camera, the police car and the ambulances. There are also state agents behind some of the practices referred to, such as the arrival of the post.

Some of the state’s institutions are also visible, or at least hinted at, in this narrative. By ‘institution’ we mean organisations (the post office, a government department or ministry, a school or a hospital), but also sometimes regular or patterned ‘ways of doing things’. The most visible examples are the school where Jill works and the post office where she buys her stamps. The nursery might well be a state institution. It is also possible to imagine the state institutions behind the police car, the health visitor and the ambulances. Listening to the politician on the radio might conjure up images of the House of Commons, just as listening to the weather forecast might conjure up an image of the Met. Office – although many people may be surprised to know that this is a state institution which operates under the Ministry of Defence.

The state also appears in this narrative through the bureaucratic procedures – that is, established procedures through which state institutions and their employees regulate and order many everyday activities. Jill’s office timetable, the length of her working day and the time allocated for her lunch break are regulated by state health and safety procedures. Even the very time that appears on Jill’s alarm clock is regulated by the state – an Act of Parliament in 1916 established that people in Britain would get up an hour earlier in summer (from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October to be precise). The requirement to use a car seat, for the car to have its MOT certificate, for Jill to have a valid driving licence in order to be able to drive, all point to the existence of the state through its laws and regulations and the people who work in the state institutions and agencies that make and implement them.

What Joe Painter, the political geographer, calls ‘the everyday discourses of state actors’ (2006, p. 761) also feature in Jill’s story. Most obviously there is the politician talking on the radio, but there is also the labelling that probably appears on Jill’s sandwich telling her what ingredients it contains, the road signs on Jill’s way to school, the tax demands which may have come in the post and even the fine she might have incurred driving past the speed camera. The state also presents itself to individuals, not just through official correspondence in the form of tax demands or speeding fines, but through the mass media. Newspaper headlines referring to the ‘Big Brother state’ or to the ‘nanny state’ do so because these terms have meaning – they reflect ideas about the state that circulate in society. These particular headlines imply a state that is overbearing and intrusive in everyday life, and they are used precisely because this is one image of the state that has resonance for many people. There is, however, a headline that talks about state help, and this suggests another idea of the state that supports its citizens with childcare or retirement; in other words, what is generally defined as the welfare state. We can see here an interesting tension between state provision of security and protection on the one hand, and unfair state intrusion into people’s lives on the other. Many political debates focus on disagreements about how to define the point at which protection and support turn into intrusion or interference.

So, what is the state?Edit

The kind of everyday practices and representations of the state in Jill’s story shape, for the anthropologists Aradhana Sharma and Akhil Gupta (2006), the ways in which people experience and learn about the state. But what is the state, exactly, and where is it? From Jill’s story, it seems that the state is everywhere, enmeshed in our daily lives through a complex assemblage of institutions, practices, people and discourses.

So, there are many and varied practices through which the state orders – or attempts to order – our lives. Or, to put it another way, there is a lot of political ordering going on in ordinary, everyday life. This fact tells us something about what the state is – it is the thing that does all this complex ordering. But the state remains a rather elusive thing. One might say that it lacks ‘thingness’. For example, I can visit a government department, see my NHS doctor, phone the police, write an email to my local council representative and correspond with the tax office. But the state is always more than each of these things – perhaps it is not so much a thing as a rather abstract idea which, in a sense, ‘sits behind’ all of these organisations. The state as such does not appear – it seems to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. This is one reason why the emphasis on practices is important. But there is a sense in which the state is less abstract, or more concrete. We could say that the state is all the organisations and agents through which and by which these practices are made and remade. So, in that sense, the state is also a set of organisations.

Taking the state as a set of organisations, we can see that the state today is a much larger, more complex, and more numerous set of organisations and practices than it was two hundred, one hundred or even fifty years ago. The English historian A.J.P. Taylor argued that, until August 1914, the state left the adult citizen alone and ‘a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman’ (1975, p. 25) (Taylor was writing specifically about England, but what he says applies more generally across the UK). This is certainly no longer the case today. For Taylor, it was the First World War, and then the Second World War, that increased the reach of the state into the daily lives of both men and women, as all aspects of the economy and society were drawn into the war effort on an unprecedented scale:

The mass of the people became, for the first time, active citizens. Their lives were shaped by orders from above; they were required to serve the state instead of pursuing exclusively their own affairs. Five million men entered the armed forces, many of them (though a minority) under compulsion. The Englishman’s food was limited, and its quality changed, by government order. His freedom of movement was restricted; his conditions of work prescribed. Some industries were reduced or closed, others artificially fostered. The publication of news was fettered. Street lights were dimmed. The sacred freedom of drinking was tampered with: licensed hours were cut down, and the beer watered by order. The very time on the clocks was changed. From 1916 onwards, every Englishman got up an hour earlier in summer than he would otherwise have done, thanks to an act of parliament. The state established a hold over its citizens which, though relaxed in peacetime, was never to be removed and which the Second World War was again to increase.

States today do more, and they need more people and more organisations (departments, agencies, advisory and regulatory bodies) to do so. States are now so large and complex in terms of both their structures and their functions that Christopher Hood (1982), a political scientist, has argued that the bodies that now make up the state are ‘a formless mass’. One hundred years ago, even basic ideas of the welfare state, with its structures and operations around health, education and social services, barely existed. Today, along with defence, these are the largest areas of state policy and provision, even after privatisations (the transfer of state bodies and functions to the private sector) and the rise of the market principle from the mid 1980s across Western and a number of other democracies. The economic and social role of the state increased again as a consequence of the financial crisis and downturn beginning in 2008. The large array of things that the state now does requires not only more state employees and agencies, but also more complex patterns of interaction and interdependence between different state bodies, as well as between state bodies and non-state bodies. In short, contemporary states not only consist of enormous numbers of agencies, but they perform an enormous variety of functions.

The size of the state, its organisational complexity and its variety of functions all combine to make the state a difficult thing to grasp (we noted above how it seems to have this ‘abstract’ quality). Have you ever tried to grasp ‘a formless mass’? But there is another reason why the state is difficult to define. In some ways, it appears to be something more than its personnel, its institutions, its practices and its discourses. What is this ‘more’ that we are talking about here? To try to understand this we will use The Open University as an example. To start with, The Open University consists of all the people who work there in various capacities and of all the people who study with the University. It is also made up of material things, such as its buildings, its computers and all of the course materials generated there, and it is made up of countless practices and daily activities, such as carrying out research, producing courses and marking exam papers. The Open University also presents itself to its employees, its students and the wider society through its official brand, which appears on internal and external communications, and through its advertising in various media. But The Open University also gives the impression that it is more than the sum of all these parts. It appears to have an existence independent of the people, institutions and practices that compose it, akin perhaps to the fictional Unseen University in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. The Unseen University, which some believe is inspired by The Open University, has an official motto ‘Nunc Id Vides, Nunc Ne Vides’, loosely translated as ‘Now you see it, now you don’t’.

We can see this same effect when we try to pinpoint what it is we are talking about when it comes to the state. It is reflected in the distinction that some political scientists make between governments and the state. Government is generally understood as the group of ministers (about 100 people in the UK, led by the Prime Minister) who are collectively responsible to Parliament for making and implementing policy on national issues. While particular governments come and go, mostly as a result of victories and defeats in national elections, the state is ‘a continuing, even permanent, entity’ (Heywood, 1994, p. 38). More accurately, there is a continuous attempt to create an impression that the state is a permanent thing, even if, in reality, some states also come and go (think of Yugoslavia, for example, a state that no longer exists, having been broken up in recent years into a number of new states – Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia, Montenegro, FYR Macedonia and Kosovo). But, how is this quality of permanence and continuity created? Sharma and Gupta (2006) argue that the everyday bureaucratic practices and the representations of the state (of the kind encountered in Jill’s morning) contribute to building up an image of the state that is coherent, unified and dominant across time and space. As a result of the seemingly endless repetition of everyday practices and the images the state presents to us, perhaps (for example) through the uniforms state agents wear, the buildings they work in or discourses in the media, the state comes to assume a dominant and permanent position in our lives as something with a ring of solidity to it. This is reflected in Benjamin Franklin’s famous adage that ‘In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes’. This idea of permanence and solidity is what the political scientist Timothy Mitchell (1999) terms ‘the state effect’. For Mitchell (1999, p. 180), the mundane activities and state discourses that we talked about in Jill’s story all help to give the impression that the state is more than just the sum of its parts.

From the above, you might have the impression that the state is overpowering and all-pervasive. Certainly this is one image of the state that many have held, past and present. The Leviathan, the frontispiece of one of the most famous books on the state, written by the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes in 1651, a time of widespread and dangerous religious strife, certainly appears at first glance to offer us this image.

Hobbes’s leviathan state, portrayed by the giant body of the king or ruler, towers over the people and territory it rules. And yet, on closer inspection, we can see that Hobbes’s leviathan state is composed of countless individuals. The state appears to dominate those individuals (and in Hobbes’s account, the state is certainly there to keep its citizens in awe), but the state also depends on those same citizens for its very existence. Today, we can see that the mundane, repetitive practices that build up an image of the state as coherent and unified depend precisely on the activity of citizens, whether or not they work for the state.

For example, the census illustrates one way in which individuals experience the state. Through the census, the state literally comes through a person’s front door in an official envelope, and individuals are asked to fill in the form following the categories the state has chosen to employ. And yet, a significant proportion of the British population chose to subvert the process by ignoring the classifications delineated by the state and identifying their religion as Jedi. Others may well have subverted the process by refusing to fill in the census or by filling it in incorrectly. Thus, there is ‘nothing straightforward or obvious about the production and reproduction of the state effect’ (Sharma and Gupta, 2006, pp. 17–18).

Making and remaking the stateEdit

All individuals, to a lesser or greater extent, are involved in making and remaking the state, as the example of the census in the previous section suggests. This happens in numerous and complex ways. To return to her story for a moment, Jill may well have contributed to making and remaking the state by paying her taxes, by not speeding, by renewing her MOT and by taking her toddler to the health visitor for a check-up. On the other hand, she may well have contributed to ‘unmaking’ the state by doing none of these things or by doing them in ways that go against established processes and procedures.

Since 1 January 2004, under the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, all successful adult applicants for British citizenship have been required to attend a citizenship ceremony. While they are quite a recent innovation in the UK, citizenship ceremonies have a longer history in other countries, such as Australia. These ceremonies are an example of a performance carried out by individual citizens that contributes to producing and reproducing the state and to creating a particular idea of the state. A key element of this idea is the link between the state and a nation defined by its territory and people. One of the most famous definitions of the state, which is regularly used in political argument today, depends on this symmetrical relationship between a state, its territory and its people. The German sociologist Max Weber, in a lecture given in 1918, defined the state as ‘a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory’ (Weber, 1991 [1921], p. 78). While other elements are key to Weber’s definition, and we shall explore some of these below, territory is clearly central to it – the state claims to be dominant (it claims to say what goes) within a defined territory, or within a country’s borders.

And yet, the relationship between state and nation, or nations, is not a given – it is constructed rather than natural. The suggestion of a citizenship ceremony for all school leavers in the UK sparked off intense debate because it raises key questions about the relationship between the state, its territory and its people. In part, this is because the borders of a state do not necessarily coincide with the borders of a nation, as in the case of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the official title of the country since 1927) where one state houses three nations – England, Scotland and Wales. Northern Ireland is an interesting example, and one to which we will return below. For now we can say that it is part of the state of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but only some would consider it a nation or would describe their nationality as Northern Irish. Some refer to it as a state-within-a-state, others as the Province, others as the Six Counties, others as Ulster.

In 2008, a report, authored by government minister Lord Goldsmith, and commissioned by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, suggested that all school leavers should be encouraged to take part in a citizenship ceremony, which could contain an oath of allegiance to the Queen. Below is a selection of personal pledges that members of the public invented in response to this suggestion.

  • I make a personal pledge to respect my fellow citizens, regardless of race, gender, or religion, and to uphold the laws of Great Britain. In so doing, I acknowledge my personal responsibility to contribute to the country I have chosen to call my own.

Lynne Killeen, from Brentwood, Tennessee, USA

  • I pledge my oath of allegiance to my Queen and my country. I promise to watch all reality TV and to emulate those that are put before us as examples of fine citizens. I will honour all sporting figures and raise them upon pedestals until such times as they make an error where upon I will pillory them and mock them to the ends of the earth. As an upstanding member of British society I vow to claim as much social benefit as possible to ensure that my binge drinking does not sink to sub standard levels. But most importantly, and over everything else, I swear that I will not take myself, or my country, too seriously because I am proud to be British and that is how we do it.

Kiltie Jackson, Staffs, UK

  • I swear to be true to the Queen (or King) of England (even though I’m Welsh) and to never watch her speech on Christmas Day because there’s always a good film on the other channel. I promise to moan constantly about the weather, the price of fuel, Americans and how much better things were 10/20/30 years ago. I will not leave my bag unattended on a railway station. I pledge allegiance to the flag of Ikea and can’t wait for the next series of Dr Who which is very British and also made in Wales. I will not accept foreign currencies nor will I weigh items in grams when pounds are perfectly adequate.

Wags, Tywyn Gwynedd

  • I swear allegiance to humanity, to the values expressed by the UN Charter and vow to uphold the Human Rights of all people in accordance with its precepts.

Lorna McAllister, Cumbernauld, North Lanarkshire

(BBC News, 2008)

These pledges of allegiance point to a number of interesting questions about the relationship between state, nation and territoriality, and about issues of identity and belonging.

The pledges suggest that there is a relationship between a state and a territory but that this relationship is not a neat one. The idea of ‘my country’ is expressed frequently but exactly what this means varies between the pledges: we have references to Great Britain, England and Wales. The last pledge also refers to a wider ‘humanity’ beyond the confines of nation states or countries. Although none of the pledges cited here refer to the European Union, they could have done so given that all UK citizens now also have European citizenship.

The pledges also hint at a set of common ideas, values and cultural references, often expressed here in terms of humorous stereotypes, which give people a sense of belonging and a sense of identification with a particular state and its territory, even though these ideas and values might not be uniformly or universally shared.

Finally, there is a sense that being a citizen of a state carries with it certain responsibilities, even if these are often expressed ironically, such as promising to moan constantly about the weather. The first pledge, in particular, stresses the responsibility that arises because this person has chosen to be a citizen of a particular state whereas the other pledges assume, to some degree, a pre-given relationship between a person and the nation state in which they happen to be born.

From the above, we can see how the relationship between people, territory and the state is not pre-given but is made and remade through the practices of citizens and the practices and discourses of the state’s agents and institutions. In this sense, the state cannot just assume its territoriality, but must constantly lay claim to it.

Legitimising the stateEdit

We used the example of citizenship ceremonies to open up the issue of the links between state, nation and people. Citizenship ceremonies are just one way in which citizens are requested by the state to legitimise their relationship with the state. ‘Legitimacy’ refers to a belief in the state’s ‘rightness’, its right to rule, or the idea that its authority is proper. A state that is (believed to be or accepted as) legitimate is more likely to succeed in its constant tasks of political ordering than a state that is perceived as illegitimate. The majority of citizens in the UK, however, are unlikely to be called upon to participate in one of these ceremonies. So, in what other ways does the state seek to claim legitimacy from its citizens? We have already seen from Jill’s story that many of the everyday practices and discourses of the state, its symbols and the ways in which state actors and institutions represent themselves to the people, are involved in this process of legitimation; that is to say, the state’s claiming of legitimacy from its citizens.

In addition to these everyday practices and discourses, one of the main ways in which individuals express their acceptance or rejection of the state is through the ballot box. By and large, of course, elections do not tend to question the state’s overall legitimacy: they provide a means for people to question and reflect on this or that government policy, the adequacy of this or that government agency, or the talents and policies (or lack of them) of this or that party, candidate or official. Nevertheless, in the contemporary world, legitimacy – the sense that the state is in some way rightful – is closely associated with democratic principles. One prominent democratic theorist, David Beetham (1992), suggests that political legitimacy can arise from:

1.legal validity (the government is formed, and state agencies operate, according to the rules of the constitution) 2.the justifiability of those rules in terms of local values (the constitutional rules are themselves acceptable to the people who are ruled by them) 3.evidence of express consent (the people have regular opportunities to give or withhold their agreement with government and policies, especially, though not solely, through democratic voting). Today, we would see free and fair democratic elections as the main, if not the only, reasonable indicator of whether people have given ‘express consent’ to those who hold state-derived power over them.

This is a key point. ‘Democracy’ is the word that, in the early twenty-first century, names the form of political order that few dare to oppose. To oppose democracy is to put oneself beyond the pale in most political discourse in most countries and cultures today. As the Nobel Prizewinning economist and philosopher Amartya Sen has written:

In any age and social climate, there are some sweeping beliefs that seem to command respect as a kind of general rule – like a ‘default’ setting on a computer program; they are considered right unless their claim is somehow precisely negated. While democracy is not yet universally practised, nor indeed uniformly accepted, in the general climate of world opinion, democratic governance has now achieved the status of being taken to be generally right. The ball is very much in the court of those who want to rubbish democracy to provide justification for that rejection.(Sen, 1999, p. 5)

Democracy, it seems, is virtually the only game in town. Beyond groups of ideological and religious extremists, plus the rulers and defenders of isolated regimes such as that of North Korea, few would explicitly oppose democracy, even if (as we shall see) they disagree on what democracy is. ‘Democracy’ is the word that describes the early twenty-first century’s political good thing, its must-have political system. There is irony in democracy’s popularity. Only just over 200 years ago, to be a ‘democrat’ was to be on the political fringe, perhaps a dangerous radical. At the time of the American and French revolutions – often taken to be the twin birthplaces of modern democracy – ‘democracy’ still largely meant what we would call ‘direct democracy’. Direct democracy is a system in which citizens make community decisions in face-to-face assemblies, as in the famous ancient Athenian democracy, or, in the more modern version, a system in which key (or even all) community decisions are made by direct votes of the people (in referendums).

Arguably, and to tell a complex story in simple terms, what those two great revolutions of the late 1700s invented was not ‘democracy’, but rather representative government. Over time, that system of representation based on elections, establishing a system of indirect rather than direct rule by the people, came to be known as ‘representative democracy’, and then simply as ‘democracy’. The foundations of what we call democracy today were laid by constitutional designers such as James Madison, one of the founding fathers of the US Constitution, who sought to restrain rather than to unleash the forces of democracy. The historical advance to today’s democratic systems was halting, dangerous and often bloody. Working-class men, then women, had to struggle to get the vote. Extensions of democracy were opposed strongly by conservative factions and parties at almost every step, in most European countries at least.

Setting the history largely to one side, the pressing question remains – how can we define democracy? If it is so crucial to state legitimation, just what is it? The first point to make is that democracy is not so much a ‘thing’ as a project; not so much something that is already built as something that is always still under construction. Arguably, there is no non-democracy that cannot be a democracy, and no democracy that cannot be more democratic. And democracy will always be built and run differently in different places, depending on local histories and cultures; Senegalese democracy is real, but it does not operate just like Indian or American democracy. A big part of what democracy is, is the continuing debate about what democracy is.

We can take each of those points on board and still be a little more precise, however. Many commentators refer to ‘minimalist’ and ‘maximalist’ approaches to democracy. Minimalists define democracy as competition in elections for the right to govern. Maximalists accept this as a minimal core, but go further – democracy also requires local and direct participation, or special forums for deliberation, or elements of direct democracy such as policy referendums, and so on. The democratic theorist Giovanni Sartori (1987) has argued that there are two key questions we need to ask: (1) Is this a democracy? (2) How democratic is it? In other words, there is a threshold and a continuum – the threshold specifies the minimum requirements of a democracy, and the continuum a range of further democratising institutions and practices on top of those requirements. That is one route to compromise between minimalists and maximalists. But throughout the twentieth century and up to today, there has been lively debate between the two camps as to who knows best the soul of democracy. Minimalists have claimed variously that they are realists, that they base their views on what works in the real world, and that they do empirical research (e.g. on elections and electoral systems) that backs up their views. Maximalists – variously known as ‘participative democrats’ or ‘direct democrats’, or more recently ‘deliberative democrats’ – claim that minimalists do not take seriously the genuinely radical call, as well as the real practical potential, of democracy as ‘rule by the people’. Nevertheless, the grounds for a compromise built on Sartori’s notions are strong. There is little point trying to extend democracy in terms, say, of citizens’ juries and policy referendums if a system of free and fair elections for parliamentary representatives is not in place. And there is equally little point in establishing free and fair elections and then saying to citizens ‘that’s it, just turn up to vote every four or five years and there’s nothing more you can or should do’.

There are other ways to look at democracy too. Of course, people’s lived experience of democracy will vary a great deal, within one place or country and between countries. Men and women, younger people and older people, members of different ethnic groups, rich and poor, working-class and middle-class people will experience democracy in divergent ways. Ideals associated with democracy, such as freedom and equality, are just abstract principles; how and to what extent people can understand them and act upon them puts flesh on the bones of these abstractions, and produces complex and mixed stories. There are different cultures of democracy. Further, critics have argued that there is a lot of window dressing involved in the popularity of ‘democracy’; political leaders and others may construct images of themselves as good democrats, but how far in specific cases does the image match people’s lived realities? In short, for all its rhetorical popularity today, democracy remains a set of practices and ideas that is subject to complexity and controversy.