What do you mean by stateless society? What are the political and social principles of stateless society? What is the role of state in stateless society and how it is different from modern society? (250 Words/ 15 Marks)

Mentor’s Comment:

Main idea of the question: The societies which have no formal agency of social control such as no rigid boundary, no bureaucracy, no fixed ideology, have oral tradition, simple economy and single person holds several powers like religious, economical, political etc. are main characteristics of stateless society. Roles played by state in stateless society which is different from the modern society or state.

Key concept related to the answer: what is stateless society, its political and social principles and the role of state in it. How it is different from the modern society/state?

Model Answer:

  • Stateless societies were those that had no centralized authority, no administrative machinery and no courts of justice. They were without any kind of pyramidal structure of power. There were no chiefs or councils with the authority to issue commands that would be binding on all. They were described as existing in a condition of ‘ordered anarchy’.
  • These societies have idea of territorial rights which are maintained through notions of age, social sanctions and social control. Here Power and authority are diffused in different groups in a society.
  • Much of political and social life of a stateless society revolves around the feud. The feud was a force for division, but it was also a powerful force for union. Feuds were generally settled in course of time. Sometimes a lesser feud had to be settled so that the contestants could unite for a greater one. This is what has been called ‘the peace in the feud’.

Political principles of a stateless society:

  • Politics deals with the distribution of power in a society. In a stateless society power is confined in one individual who orders about the course of action. In grave situation such as for the defence of territory or blood feud people from the different group or segment unite and fight collectively.
  • Authority or command is delegated by the head to the subordinate who within his/her boundary becomes powerful and independent. Chief authority is a titular or symbolic head representing entire group though segmentary social structure persists. He is considered almost divine and sacred.
  • More the level of surplus, greater the development of centralized polity. Extent to which a ruler exercises his authority over his people, defines the scope of his political power. Scope rather than range of power makes polity more centralized eg. Feudatory states of Orissa. Territory of king surrounded by segmentary clan lineage based units. They participate in main rituals and ceremonies of central kingdom. No other political authority exist i.e. minimal scope e.g. Silluks of upper Nile.
  • Among loyal subjects Relatives are considered as rivals. Loyalty is rewarded by king in the
    form of shared authority. Mystical symbols also integrate and unify stateless societies. This is because the entire society regards these to be sacred and that which should be protected.

Social principles of a stateless society:

  • The detailed study of the day-to-day affairs of stateless societies served to dispel the idea that the State was the sole and indispensable guarantor of social order, and that without it everything would dissolve into chaos. Such society operates according to their own principles of cooperation and conflict.
  • The ordinary business of life consists of sowing, harvesting and herding. It also consists of birth, marriage and death and the rites and ceremonies attendant on them. None of these activities can be undertaken by the individual alone. They all require the participation of others, including those who are on opposite sides in a feud.
  • In a stateless societies where the society is segmented or divided into sections alliances take place along the lines of territory, residence, kinship, descent, heritage and marriage.
  • Kinship system plays a very crucial role in the socio-political and economic organisation of a stateless society. Its functions are extensive and overlapping with functions of the political and economic institutions.
  • In some stateless society there are institutions which protect the rights of all the members of society. For Example: where food is scarce or limited, these institutions used to gather and distribute food. Since, in these societies the concept of accumulation of property and food does not exist, there is always the problem of distribution.

Role of state in a stateless society which is different from the modern society:

  • In modern concept state consists a territorial boundary headed by elected political authority to run the everyday business of the society associated by various others such as bureaucrats and executive officers. In a stateless society the state boundaries are not defined (no rigid boundary) and no elected political authority. Here the political authority is the hereditary ruler who is the symbolic head. Some of the state is also headed by religious head. The concept of fixed ideology and bureaucracy remain completely absent in such a society.
  • When a society is industrialized it is considered to be modern society or it can be defined as people living together in current time. The boundaries are marked and sovereignty is followed in letter and spirit. In stateless society state boundaries are self considered which can be increased or decreased as per the acquisition by other group in terms of feud and feud settlement. Though state play important role in their recognition and belongingness which is prevalent today also.
  • Social lineages are separated by villages and a group of villages which prevents conflicts between different lineages. For example; lineage system of Santhals, Oraon, Bhils which have principles of segmental opposition.
  • Modern society is based on expansion of education, technology, industry and urban life. It has a complex culture changing with the time. Its base is materializing. Due to diverse social conditions heterogeneous life is found. Social problems of various natures develop among various groups.
  • Modern society considers more about urbanization, sub-social institutions, job opportunities, better income opportunities, social stratification, urban facilities, source of communication, social mobility, international relation, women status etc. which were absent in stateless society.


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