Activity 5: Introducing theories of the state and revolutions

1.5 hours


To help us to:

  • Understand what the state is theoretically and how do we understand the state in the South African context.
  • Grapple with rival theories of the state: the pluralist state, the capitalist state, the leviathan state and the patriarchal state.
  • Understand the different meanings of the idea of revolution theoretically and the difference between a political and social revolution.


This activity is divided into three parts:

The first part of this activity is a short presentation – Understanding the State and State Power. (15 mins)

The presentation starts by defining the state theoretically and in the South African context, and ends by posing these questions on the nature of the state and state power:

  • Whose interests does the state represent?
  • Is the state independent of society or is it a product of society?
  • Does the state serve the common/collective good or is it biased in favour of certain groups?
  • Is the state a positive and constructive force, or is it a negative and destructive entity?

However, rather than asking you to answer these questions in plenary, these questions leads us to the second part of the activity, which is reading circles.

For the reading circles, you will be divided into five (5) groups. Four (4) groups will deal with one aspect of the rival theories of the state. One (1) group will deal with the meaning of revolution.

Groups 1-4 will read the relevant extracts from ‘Andrew Heywood, Politics and the State, Politics’ while group 5 will read the ‘What is a Revolution’ worksheet.

The groups will read the following extracts:

Group 1:

Andrew Heywood, Politics and the State, Politics (4th edition, 2013 (extracts on pluralist state)

Group 2:

Andrew Heywood, Politics and the State, Politics (4th edition, 2013 (extracts on capitalist state)

Group 3:

Andrew Heywood, Politics and the State, Politics (4th edition, 2013, (extracts on the leviathan state)

Group 4:

Andrew Heywood, Politics and the State Politics (4th edition, 2013, (extracts on patriarchal state)

Group 5:

What is a Revolution? (worksheet)

In the reading circles, complete the reading, discuss the key issues raised and then prepare to report to plenary as follows:

  1. Summarise the reading on newsprint, using a maximum of 5 bullet-points.
  2. Does your assigned theory of the state apply to the South African state? Or, in the case of the group on revolutions, do you believe that South Africa had a revolution in 1994? If so, was this a political or social revolution?

You will have 45 minutes for this task.

The third part of the activity will be report-backs in plenary, where your group will have a chance to share what you have prepared.

This should take an additional 30 minutes.

Please refer to the reading pack for:

“Politics and the State” in Andrew Heywood, Politics (4th edition, 2013)

What is a Revolution? (worksheet)

Last updated December 15, 2019 6:23 pm