Nation States: Organizational Hierarchies or Networks?

Last semester, during a seminar at Goethe Universit├Ąt on Geographies of Violence: state, space and power relations in Latin America, the idea of “Nation States as institutional hierarchies” was fiercily challenged by the idea of “Nation States as networks”.

The “network party”, as Anne-Marie Slaughter calls it (2014: pp. 59), is a paradigm change for social organization. And though I do agree and believe that all interactions can now be referred to as networks, I believe it is early to redefine Nation States as networks.

Ultimately, Nation States still function as hierarchical structures, and though the concept of networked organization is indeed possible to be applied to understanding power relations, economic and social dynamics within them (and especially to their relations within the international system), understanding Nation States as networked organizations is something only feasible (to a large extent) in academic/conceptual thought.

Slaughter gives us valuable insights on why the transition from traditional hierarchical structures to networked organizations has not yet happened to Nation States. She draws a comparison between Hierarchies and Networks that clarifies why this is so:

  1. Networked organizations are more flexible (?), creative (?), adaptable (?), autonomous (?) and resilient (?) relative to hierarchies;
  2. Networks depend on trust (?) and reciprocity (?);
  3. Networks do not require a governing authority (?); and lastly
  4. Every organization features continuous  interplay between its informal networks and its formal structures (!). All formal hierarchies contain informal networks (!) ; all networks will develop informal hierarchies based on experience or expertise. (ibid.: pp. 63)

Based on her insights, Anne-Marie Slaughter helps us to understand Nation States as hierarchical structures featuring continuous interplay between its informal networks and its formal structures. I believe this is a more accurate description or even conception of the contemporary organizational model of Nation States.

Though a more detailed analysis is certainly needed to further understand the ongoing structural and paradigmatic transformation in society and in State institutions (especially through developing case studies, as different Nation States would certainly prove to be in different stages of this transformation), I suggest avoiding the assumption that the network paradigm has made its way through and substituted the hierarchical formalities of public governance.



Slaughter, A. (2017) The Chessboard and the Web: Strategies of Connection in a Networked World. Yale University Press.