This chapter discusses recent debate on the character of the state in peripheral societies and delineates the limitations of current theories. It proposes that there are advantages both for social theory in incorporating an anthropologically informed understanding of the state and for anthropology in taking into account the political context and content of local events. The chapter begins with the notion of the "relative autonomy of the state," a notion much debated among Marxist scholars but of broad use in directing attention to basic questions about whom states serve and what states do. These questions frame the discussion of recent theory, as the chapter traces the development of social theory about peripheral societies from early dependency theory's focus on external constraints, through the more careful scrutiny of internal factors in the work of both later dependency theorists and their Marxist critics, to the more synthetic approaches of recent work on Latin American political economy.