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What is the State?

The British Academy Lecture, delivered by Professor Quentin Skinner FBA, on 13 May 2008.

The state is the name normally assigned to the agency that wields sovereign power over some determinate territory. To understand the concept, however, we need in addition to know whose actions properly count as actions of this agency, and hence as authentic expressions of the sovereign authority of the state. The lecture proceeds by way of offering a genealogy of various rival answers that have been given to this question in modern Anglophone legal and political thought, concluding with an assessment of the prevalent view that we may now be moving into a 'post sovereignty' era beyond the state.

Professor Quentin Skinner, Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge, was elected a Fellow of the Academy in 1981. The author or co-author of more than twenty books, his works have been very widely translated, and his two-volume study, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, was named by the Times Literary Supplement in 1996 as one of the hundred most influential books published since the second world war.

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