VOL. 3, NO. 6, PGS. 1–8


Governing Complex Societies: The Role of the State
A conversation with B. Guy Peters

This interview was conducted by Javier Toro.

B. Guy Peters is Maurice Falk Professor of Government at the University of Pittsburgh and Founding President of the International Public Policy Association. He co-authored Comparative Governance: Rediscovering the Functional Dimension of Governing.

What is governance? Why is it important?

Governance comes from a Greek word that means steering. The notion is that governing is essentially steering the economy and the society towards some supposed collective goals. The ideal would be that these goals were set democratically. However, whatever way those goals come about, the major question in governance is about having the capacity to reach those goals. This is important because this is how we deal with collective problems that individuals and the economic system cannot deal with adequately. Governance, therefore, encompasses some sort of governing system to deal with those problems. The governing system might not be perfect, but at least it establishes some mechanisms for trying to reach those collective goals.

Is there a unified sense of the role that the state should play in governing? What roles has the state played all over the world throughout history?

Well, there is no agreed-upon role for the state. If you look at the theory of governance, you’ll see some people who are still very state-centric. They basically argue that the state should always be in control and that everything else should essentially be working with the state or through the state. You’ll also see others who argue that the state and government are not really necessary, that a lot of what we think of as governance can be done through voluntary action, social networks, intermediary bodies. So, there’s no common understanding of how governance should be supplied. In general, I think that you cannot think about governing without the state and a reasonably strong role for the state. You need the authority, you need laws, you need the capacity to raise money and mobilize other resources. But there are still theorists, particularly in Europe, who very much emphasize the role of social actors in providing governance.

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