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Neither Dwarf nor Leviathan: Explaining Territorial and Functional Variation in State Capacity

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - STATE CAPACITY (Neither Dwarf nor Leviathan: Explaining Territorial and Functional Variation in State Capacity)

Reporting period: 2017-07-01 to 2018-06-30

Citizens live longer, happier lives where states are able to perform their core functions effectively. Even though weak states have received considerable attention from scholars and policy-makers, the concept of state weakness has remained under-theorized. The shortcomings of current conceptualizations are revealed by mounting empirical evidence that (1) state capacity does not extend homogeneously across national territories and (2) that a state’s capacity to control and coerce citizens is distinct from its capacity to care for them by providing vital services. This action pushes forward the conceptualization and measurement of subnational heterogeneity in state capacity. It draws on Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and spatial econometric analysis to map and explain subnational variation in state capacity and the infrastructure of the state across Mexico. The results of the project show that dis-aggregating state capacity spatially and along different function dimensions is crucial for a better understanding of how states shape the lives of citizens.
During the outgoing phase of the fellowship the PI was a visiting fellow at the Center for US-Mexican Studies at the University of California, San Diego. She has now also completed the return phase of the fellowship, which was hosted by the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR) at the University of Amsterdam. During the action, the PI has collected data on the subnational infrastructure of the Mexican state as well as on state-citizen interaction to push forward the measurement and conceptualization of the subnational state. She has contributed to methodological debates about the use of spatial data in comparative politics research, and disseminated the results of the action through academic articles, as well as through presentations for academic audiences and the broader public.
The terrible toll the drug war in Mexico is taking on citizens’ lives and livelihoods underlines forcefully the urgency to develop a better understanding of state capacity. Scholars of development have highlighted the consequences of state capacity for economic growth and human development. Where development scholars have tended to prioritize caring capacity, security researchers have focused on coercive capacity and warned that low-capacity spaces pose a threat that extends far beyond bounded territories.
In light of this, the policy impact of the project is twofold:
- The project develops an empirical measure that is useful for domestic and international policy-makers because it visualizes state capacity for two crucial dimensions connected to security and development. This facilitates the identification of underserved areas.
- States are often accused of not using resources where they are needed most. By examining why efforts to build institutions are unequal and uncovering pressure on the state to invest in specific places, the project sheds light on a crucial, but poorly understood, aspect of state development.
Theoretically and conceptually, the project is rooted in political science. However, the study also speaks to scholars in other fields interested in state capacity such as geography, economics, anthropology, sociology and development studies.
Poster for Talk about the Project at Amherst College