Alexia Stainer, Grenoble, July 2010
The Hollow State concept looks at how a state that functions normally from the exterior and therefore appears as a functioning state within the international sphere, can in fact be absent and disconnected from its citizens.
Within its historical context the Western state model developed on the basis of the social contract, where the population gives up certain rights to the state in return for governance and the rule of law. It has however become increasingly evident that to transplant this model into a country without this same historical and political context creates states that function along different lines to those expected. Post-colonial states were created primarily from the outside, and as a consequence of this a large part of their legitimacy depends on relationships and functioning within the international community. One result of this is what is being referred to here as the Hollow State: “A hollow state is one that is less historically dependent on internal processes and legitimation than a truly national state.” (1)
It would be wrong to characterise a hollow state as being ‘fragile’ or ‘failed’ as it has stable political processes in place; but not necessarily one that is considered legitimate from within that state is mostly absent to its citizens. “Far from being a liminal entity, the hollow state may be quite stable, its processes stabilizing into one discourse of stateness that dominates the international sphere, supporting “states” that do not derive their legitimacy from internal processes, and a different discourse of governance that subverts the state, with the people doing their best to stay away from the state apparatus.” (2)
The Philippines can be identified as a hollow state. Despite the removal of Ferdinand Marcos in the 1986 People Power Revolution, Pilipino politics has remained in the hands of an elite, and to struggle with corruption. The country, which has more than 100 languages and many ethnic groups living in the many islands of the archipelago is a long way from having a national identity, which further impedes interaction with a national level government.
Along with this dis-identification from the national level where power is trapped by a mainly Tagalog speaking Catholic elite, the way that governance works at a local level also contributes to the irrelevance of national government to the lives of most of the population.
There is much higher level of trust in local politicians, and they are considered more relevant in people’s lives (3) than officials from the national level. Local NGOs are also important, in terms of the services that they provide: “The capacity for the work of NGO’s and PO’s [People’s Organisation] to impact individual’s lives in a way that devolves them away from reliance on the state, even affecting their perceptions of allegiance to their existing power structures, is a product of the global age.” (4)
The hollow state could be considered to be suffering from a sovereignty gap, existing de jure within the international sphere, but without fulfilling the roles and functions internally that would make it a de facto state.
Delfeld, H. (2010) ‘The Nation and the Hollow State, Imaginary of the Nation-State; reality of grassroots governance’ in Rethinking the state: Understanding the processes of post-crisis state transformation Bruylant: Brussels
Ghani, A., Lockhart, C., and M. Carnahan (2005) Closing the Sovereignty Gap: an Approach to State-Building Overseas Development Institute Working Paper 253
(1) : Delfeld (2010) The Nation and the Hollow State, Imaginary of the Nation-State; reality of grassroots governance.
(2) : Delfeld (2010) The Nation and the Hollow State, Imaginary of the Nation-State; reality of grassroots governance
(3) : Delfeld (2010) The Nation and the Hollow State, Imaginary of the Nation-State; reality of grassroots governance.
(4) : Delfeld (2010) The Nation and the Hollow State, Imaginary of the Nation-State; reality of grassroots governance.
This concept definition was developed as a result of the work carried out in the international conference Post-crisis state transformation: Rethinking the foundations of the state in Linköping, Sweden held 1-5 May 2009. This conference was run by Modus Operandi in collaboration with the Université Pierre Mendès France (Grenoble, France) and the European Science Foundation.