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Studying Demands for State

Enquêter sur les demandes d’État

From Practical Tensions to Generalised Crises

Des tensions pratiques aux crises généralisées

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Published on Wednesday, February 15, 2023


This study day intends to interrogate the notion of “demand for state” in different fields and from different social sciences disciplines such as sociology, history and political sciences. By “demand for State” we mean the process by which social groups come to invoke a certain ideal of the state through criticism, demands and reflexive practices. We will pay attention to the different levels at which these demands for state manifest themselves: in the practical tensions and daily affairs of social groups, in the formulation of a critique of the State in intergroup conflict, in the formation of public controversies leading to state reforms, and finally in political crises related to struggles for the state.



This study day intends to interrogate the notion of 'demand for state' in different fields and from different social sciences disciplines such as sociology, history and political sciences. By 'demand for state' we mean the process by which social groups come to invoke a certain ideal of the state through criticism, claims and reflexive practices. These moments manifest particularly clearly the specificity of the state, being both a situated bureaucratic body, and a point of view on points of view. From an Eliassian perspective, we suggest that these demands become meaningful in light of an ongoing process of differentiation and integration. Indeed, this process leads to an increasing consideration of the growing density of ties that groups, especially professional groups, nurture with each other and with the state, and not only of the action of the state apparatus 'on' society.

Indeed, whether examining a family allowance fund (Dubois, 2010), a police court and the services of the Ministry of Agriculture (Weller, 2018) or the Conseil d'État (Latour, 2002), social science research has revealed how different public services employ and adjust 'state categories'. However, it has sometimes given the impression that the agents of these administrative and bureaucratic services are the only ones who employ these categories. This study day invites us to further the analysis of the state beyond the analysis of the actors working in the state apparatus, and to place the evolution of the state’s definition in a historical perspective. We can then observe how actors from other social groups, and in particular professional groups, aspire to more debates on these  state categories. This methodological and theoretical shift extends an understanding of the state as a 'point of view on points of view' (Bourdieu, 2012), but from the normativity immanent to practices. This implies no longer considering the state solely from the perspective of the double imposition of the symbolic order, through the objectivity of classifications and the mental structures of individuals, but rather apprehending it as a historical process of socialisation of reflexivity on a state scale. Seen in these terms, this reflexivity emanates dynamically from society and from the differentiation of the social groups that compose it, insofar as they maintain conflictual and solidary relations. 

This relational approach through 'demands for state', and no longer solely through State acts, thus leads to the avoidance of an excessively sharp division between society and the state. Early research on the analysis of social movements and collective mobilisations (Shorter and Tilly 1974, Birnbaum 1984, Johnston 2011) emphasised how these movements represented the manifestation of society against the state. The aim here is to extend the research that has sought to deconstruct this dualistic approach. We will consider political systems as a whole, within which these events agitate state groups and the social groups with which they are interdependent around a given social issue (Neveu 2019) - for example industrial inequality, or civil rights (McAdam 1982). Talking about 'demands for state' therefore makes it possible to account for the equilibrium that characterises the existence of the state, which is always liable to offer a point of view on points of view - at the risk of an excessive idealism that neglects the fact that this reflexivity is tied with conflicting social relations - and always liable to be treated as a group of actors like any other - at the risk of forgetting that the aspirations manifested by the state emanate from the whole of social groups and their relations. 

This study day proposes to contribute to the displacement of the very definition of the state, by no longer considering it as “the Other” of political society, but rather as a joint process of the Statisation of society and the socialisation of the state (Linhardt, 2018). We suggest the presenters analyse this process in its concrete expressions, namely in the antagonistic demands it generates between social groups. Interrogating the critical practices of social groups in terms of demands for state implies questioning how these groups politicise their daily practices, expressing an ideal of what society should be, by taking the point of view of the state (Lemieux, 2018). 

The aim of this study day is therefore to analyse the gradualist emergence of these conflicts. We will pay equal attention to the different levels at which these 'demands for state' manifest themselves: in the practical tensions and everyday affairs of social groups, in the formulation of a state critique in intergroup conflict, in the formation of public controversies leading to state reforms, and finally in political crises related to struggles for the state. How do these levels relate to each other? How does a 'demand for state' evolve along this gradient? How is it taken up or relativised? To what extent does it make the state manifest, sometimes to the point of making it falter? The study day thus invites us to question the processes of containment and decontainment of a 'demand for state' which may, for example, be circumscribed to the threshold of a professional group, or take the form of a collective mobilisation. Finally, this reticulated approach to the gradual sequences of demand for state allows us to relativise the eruptive and contingent character that is often attributed to generalised political crises. These considerations allow us to address the question of borderline cases, those in which the antagonistic interdependencies of social groups no longer support the loop through which a political society, through the intermediary of the state, represents itself and regulates the dynamics that agitate it. 

Axis 1: From practical tensions to the formulation of demands for state

The first line of communication suggests exchanging with social science works that have analysed the use and extension of state categories among professional groups in the administration, and to extend this approach to the analysis of other social groups. The interest of this axis is to resume the study of the tensions or contradictions experienced by actors in their daily practices. These are, for example, moments when professionals mobilise judgements and skills that are not taken into account in the formal rules of work. This invites us to re-interrogate how these people will negotiate these rules and mobilise alternative categories, assuming that this work of politicising practical rules involves situating oneself in relation to the state, its effects of objectification and regulation, including within social groups that are not attached to the administration.  

However, if state acts and categories always produce tensions that jeopardise their success, why do we not see more criticism and conflict? We therefore propose to explore the practical conditions of the emergence of conflicts. This leads to the question of litigation (Felstiner, Abel, Sarat, 1991) not only at the level of the law, but in all situations where the state is present and raises issues. The work on 'state presence' (Alauzen, Gélédan, 2021) has clearly shown the fruitfulness of an analysis of the state based on its spectrality. Here too, we would like to ask what happens to this spectrality if we extend the focus to all professional groups: how does this spectrality manifest itself? How does it lead to the formulation of demands for state? How do these practical tensions contribute or not to making professional groups more reflexive about their solidarity with other groups? How do groups come to politicise their interdependencies with other groups? 

Finally, this axis invites us to study not only what leads to a demand for state based on the daily practice of the actors, but also what limits the reflexive process leading to the state. This is a new way of looking at forms of political avoidance (Eliasoph, 2010), competing spheres with the public sphere (Hirschman, 1983), but also at the resolution of challenges that can be perceived as state successes (Trom, 2020). We suggest that a new way of looking at these issues can be achieved if we consider these critical processes as being alternative to the state whilst at the same time being enabled by it, and if we focus on accounting for this duality.  

Axis 2: From conflicting demands for state to state reforms 

Following on from this point, the second main theme of the day invites us to reflect on the moments when the state is openly put to the test, when these critical processes eventually lead to forms of denunciation, to the point where a disjunction appears between the state in its practices and the state as an ideal (Linhardt 2012a). These 'tests' are at the heart of the way in which several apparently quite different disciplinary currents have approached the question of the state. What they have in common, and this is the point we wish to explore, is the questioning of the artificial separation between 'state' and 'civil society' in order to analyse what connects them, or even to place the analysis on the scale of 'political societies with a state' and the conflicts that animate them. 

Several works have addressed these interdependencies between states and social groups by considering it as an issue which mobilisations had to handle: in the exchanges between movements and political parties (Goldstone 2003), in the way in which the problems raised are progressively taken over by the state, or when the actors carrying out the mobilisation find themselves increasingly linked with the state group (Bereni and Revillard 2007). The sociology of public problems that emerged in the same movement focused even more openly on the problem of the emergence and collective constitution of the 'problems' facing the state (Gusfield 2009, Gardella and Lavergne 2009). This involves looking at the controversies within or between social groups that lead to the redefinition of certain aspects of the state and what political society expects from it.

The sociology of public action, although less interested in the formation of the state and its institutions than in its embodiment in governmental public policies, has also addressed this problem. In this sense, it is less in the transformations of the institutions and organisation of the state that it observes its testing, but in the increasing prominence of public policy and its administrative impulses (Orren 2017). This has given rise to work on 'agenda-setting' practices (Parsons 1995), on the influence of positions and stances in the constitution of public policies (Dubois 2014), or on the growing influence of risk and risk assessment in policy-making (Lascoumes 2012). The trend of administrative reforms towards greater transparency and expertise further revealed the testing of the state in the face of social uncertainties (Benamouzig and Besançon 2005), and the way in which the state's 'self-concern' (Bezes 2009), taken to an additional level of regulation and evaluation, contributed to multiplying these moments of political testing.

We may unifiy the findings of these two approaches: contrary to what some studies of social movements suggest, the political transformations generated by these mobilisations do not emanate solely from the demands of 'civil society', as they encounter tensions that state professionals also experience. Similarly, contrary to what certain traditions in the study of public action suggest, reforms and the setting of issues on the agenda by members of government, legislators or members of the administration do not happen 'against' or even simply 'in cooperation' with the actors of civil society. They are a manifestation of the more or less antagonistic interdependence that these groups nurture with the rest of political society, including in crisis. Is it possible to bring out more clearly what these different approaches have in common from the notion of 'demand for state'? Is it possible to account for moments of controversy and dispute on the basis of this three-term approach? Can we trace them in the reforms and adjustments of the state? Is it possible, by comparing the different cases of demands for state, to increase the generality of their dynamics and developments in relation to the social organisation of the political societies in which they take place?

Axis 3: From the crisis of demands for state to the struggles for a new state 

Finally, this leads us to question the generalised crises in which the entire state apparatus and the ideal it manifests are disrupted. Here we enter the realm of larger historical phenomena, such as civil wars (Baczko and Dorronsoro 2017), political and social crises (Charles Tilly 2000), colonial and postcolonial processes (Anon 2004; Goh 2008) or revolutions (Skocpol 1985). If social movements and public controversies lead to a readjustment of the state, these generalised state conflicts can be understood as moments where the criticisms that emanate from these demands for state are such that the state is reduced to being one social group among others. In this sense, this axis questions the moments of generalised crisis when the state can no longer claim to be a regulating arbiter of conflicts between social groups. Beyond the distinction between a normal state and a failed state (Call 2011), or a strong state and a weak state (Rotberg 2003), the aim here is to consider the gradualist transition from a situation in which the demands of the state are matched by its reforms and readjustments, to a situation in which the potential contradiction of conflicting, albeit interdependent, relations between groups is so great that the state can no longer manage these demands, becoming incapable of representing and regulating the tensions that are shaking the political society concerned.

 In this area, the aim is to examine how a conflict unfolds that challenges the state's ability to regulate society as a whole. By thinking of this phenomenon as a process, the papers will therefore be able to focus on the relational dynamics between social groups that allow the emergence of crises of the generalised state in a given historical situation. We will then be able to question the process of changing the scale of the conflict (Charles Tilly and Sidney Tarrow 2008) and the opening up of spaces of confrontation (Dobry, 2009): what process turns a power relationship between groups into a disjunction at the level of the state? How do existing tensions and oppositions between groups come to be expressed head-on, to the point of undermining the state's attempts at regulation? 

On the other hand, it is a question of asking how these generalised crises give rise, in return, to new everyday practices, new micro-tests, new public controversies or, conversely, how they update some of them. It is then possible to ask how, in the most concrete practices, society is organised when the state is no longer the only regulatory body and a support for the practice that seems to be operative for the actors (Saint Fuscien 2020 on the school during the First World War; Bazcko 2021 on the Taliban courts; Kotsonouris 1994, on the revolutionary justice of the IRA). In these periods of crisis, what are the frames of reference mobilised by the actors to deal with everyday practical problems? How are these moments of anomie politicised by the different social groups? Are supranational bodies called upon to replace the state as a regulatory body?

Finally, working on these generalised crises makes it possible, on the basis of the analysis of the practice of social groups and their involvement in the crisis, to work on the displacement of ideals that these historical phenomena produce. This axis proposes to understand the direct link between the practices of groups in moments of crisis and the displacement, updating or reaffirmation of the ideals present (Jacques Rougeries, 2018): how does this shed light on the different possible links between the general practical organisation of a society and ideology? How does the reorganisation of a state society in times of crisis affect the evolution of ideological conflicts between social groups? 

How to submit

Proposals for papers should not exceed 3000 characters. Accompanied by a brief biographical note (surname, first name, discipline, affiliation and status), they should be sent to the following addresses 


by 10 march 2023 at the latest.

Notifications of acceptance or refusal will be sent around 15 April 2023.

Proposals for papers should indicate the area in which they are to be presented or, failing that, clearly indicate the link with the theme of the study day. Proposals may include the following elements: Context, Theoretical Framework, Methodology, Results, and a maximum of 5 references.


The study day will take place on 15 June 2023. 

Organising Committee 

  • Alice Le Gall-Cécillion (LIER-FYT/EHESS)
  • Baptiste Legros (LIER-FYT/EHESS)
  • Théo Leschevin (ICT/Université Paris Cité, LIER-FYT/EHESS)

Scientific Committee

  • Nicolas Delalande (CSHP, SciencesPo)
  • Quentin Deluermoz (ICT, Université Paris Cité)
  • Laurent Gayer (CERI, SciencesPo) 
  • Anna Colin Lebedev (ISP, Université Paris Nanterre)
  • Dominique Linhardt (LIER-FYT, CNRS)
  • Lola Zappi (CHS, Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne)


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Baczko Adam, La guerre par le droit : les tribunaux Taliban en Afghanistan, Paris, CNRS éditions, 2021, 382 p.

Baczko Adam et Dorronsoro Gilles, « Pour une approche sociologique des guerres civiles », Revue française de science politique, 2017, vol. 67, no 2, p. 309-327.

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Dobry Michel, Sociologie des crises politiques, La dynamique des mobilisations multisectorielles, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, 2009, 432 p.

Dubois Vincent, La Vie au guichet : Administrer la misère, Paris, Points, 2015, 368 p.

Dubois Vincent, « L’action de l’État, produit et enjeu des rapports entre espaces sociaux », Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 2014, vol. 201-202, no 1-2, p. 11-25.

Eliasoph Nina, L’évitement du politique. Comment les Américains produisent l’apathie dans la vie quotidienne - Nina Eliasoph, Paris, Economica, 2010.

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Gardella Édouard et Lavergne Cécile, « Introduction. Problèmes publics, évaluation et militantisme », Tracés. Revue de Sciences humaines, 2009, 9, p. 135-144.

Goh Daniel P. S., « Genèse de l’État colonial. Politiques colonisatrices et résistance indigène (Malaisie britannique, Philippines américaines) », Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 2008, vol. 171-172, no 1-2, p. 56-73.

Goldstone Jack A., States, Parties, and Social Movements, Cambridge University Press, 2003, 312 p.

Gusfield M. Joseph, La culture des problèmes publics, Paris, Economica, 2009, 364 p.

Hirschman Albert, Bonheur privé, action publique, Paris, Fayard, 1983, 264 p.

Johnston Hank, States and Social Movements, 1st edition., Cambridge, Polity, 2011, 200p.

Kotsonouris Mary, Retreat from Revolution: The Dáil Courts, 1920-24, Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 1994, 184 p.

Lascoumes Pierre, « L’environnement, une nouvelle mission pour l’État » dans, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 2012, p. 15‑49.

Latour Bruno, La fabrique du droit, Paris, La Découverte, 2004, 320 p.

Lemieux Cyril, « Paradoxe de la modernisation. Le productivisme agricole et ses critiques (Bretagne, années 1990-2010) », Politix, 2018, vol. 123, no 3, p. 115‑144.

Linhardt Dominique, « L’État de société : Considérations sur la méthode » dans Bruno Karsenti (ed.), État et société politique, Paris, Éditions de l’École des hautes études en sciences sociales, 2020, p. 63-82.

Linhardt Dominique, « Avant-propos : épreuves d’État », Quaderni. Communication, technologies, pouvoir, 5 avril 2012, no 78, p. 5-22.

McAdam Doug, Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930-1970, 2nd Edition, 2nd edition., Chicago, The University Of Chicago Press, 1999, 346 p.

Neveu Érik, Sociologie des mouvements sociaux, Paris, La Découverte, 2015, 128 p.

Orren Karen et Skowronek Stephen, The Policy State: An American Predicament, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 2017, 272 p.

Parsons Wayne, Public Policy : An Introduction to the Theory and Practice of Policy Analysis, Edward Elgar, 1995, 704 p.

Rotberg Robert I., State Failure and State Weakness in a Time of Terror, Washington, D.C, Brookings Institution Press, 2003.

Rougerie Jacques, La Commune et les Communards, Paris, Gallimard, 2018, 426 p.

Saint-Fuscien Emmanuel, « Ce que la guerre fait à l’institution : l’école primaire en France autour du premier conflit mondial », Guerres mondiales et conflits contemporains, 2020, vol. 278, no 2, p. 5-22.

Shorter Edward et Tilly Charles, Strikes in France 1830–1968, London, New York, Cambridge University Press, 1974, 400 p.

Skocpol Theda, États et révolutions sociales : la Révolution en France, en Russie et en Chine, Paris, Fayard, 1985, 486 p.

Tarrow Sidney et Tilly Charles, Politique(s) du conflit : De la grève à la révolution, Paris, Les Presses de Sciences Po, 2008, 396 p.

Tilly Charles, « La guerre et la construction de l’Etat en tant que crime organisé », Politix, 2000, vol. 49, no 1, p. 97-117.

Trom Danny, « L’expérience duale de l’État-nation » dans Bruno Karsenti et Dominique Linhardt (eds.), État et société politique, Paris, Éditions de l’École des hautes études en sciences sociales, 2020, p. 83-103.

Weller Jean-Marc, Fabriquer des actes d’État : une ethnographie du travail bureaucratique, Paris, Economica, 2018, 313 p.

« Editorial : L’Etat colonial », Politix. Revue des sciences sociales du politique, 2004, vol. 17, no 66, p. 11-13


  • Paris, France (75)

Event format

Hybrid event (on site and online)


  • Friday, March 10, 2023

Attached files


  • état, mobilisation, mouvement social, conflit, crise, société politique


  • Théo Leschevin
    courriel : theo [dot] leschevin [at] sciencespo [dot] fr
  • Alice Le Gall-Cécillon
    courriel : alice [dot] legallcecillon [at] ehess [dot] fr
  • Baptiste Legros
    courriel : baptiste [dot] legros [at] ehess [dot] fr

Information source

  • Théo Leschevin
    courriel : theo [dot] leschevin [at] sciencespo [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Studying Demands for State », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, February 15, 2023,

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