The transformation of Saudi Arabia’s rentier state and ‘the international’

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The Saudi state is conventionally characterized as a neo-patrimonial rentier state that emerged out of a combination of traditional domestic social structures and oil wealth. However, the conceptualization of the rentier state as endogenously generated based on ‘traditional’ society is an example of Eurocentric institutionalism. In this article, I draw on literature that has sought to ‘internationalise’ the East Asian developmental state concept to show that Saudi rentier state formation has historically always been ‘international’. Thus, while Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman claims that his current economic reforms are opening up Saudi Arabia’s rentier economy to globalization, the restructuring of the rentier state is only the latest episode in this process, which was shaped by the colonial era in the Gulf and the transformation of an American-dominated global economy since World War II. The ‘internationalisation’ of the rentier state concept thereby also holds wider lessons for other neo-Weberian statist concepts such as failed or weak states.




Baumann, H. (2019). The transformation of Saudi Arabia’s rentier state and ‘the international.’ Globalizations, 16(7), 1165–1183.

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