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St Comp Int Dev (2008) 43:231–251

DOI 10.1007/s12116-008-9028-6

State Infrastructural Power: Approaches
to Conceptualization and Measurement

Hillel Soifer

Published online: 6 August 2008
# Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008

Abstract Michael Mann’s infrastructural power is a concept often applied but rarely
rigorously conceptualized and precisely measured. Three distinct analytical lenses of
infrastructural power can be derived from his definitions: infrastructural power as the
capabilities of the central state, as the territorial reach of the state, and as the effects
of the state on society. Exemplary texts applying each of these approaches are used
to demonstrate their connection to Mann’s ideas, the relationships between these
dimensions, and the boundaries between this and other aspects of the state’s strength.
Moving from conceptualization to measurement, the paper shows the costs of
common errors in the measurement of infrastructural power, and develops guidelines
for its proper empirical application.

Keywords State infrastructural power . State building .
State-society relations

State infrastructural power, as delineated by Michael Mann, refers to the
“institutional capacity of a central state … to penetrate its territories and logistically
implement decisions” (1984: 113). Mann distinguishes the state’s infrastructural
power from its despotic power, or the range of policies that the state can introduce.
We can also distinguish it from the commonly referenced autonomy or bureaucratic
professionalism of the state. This aspect of the state, though often referenced by

H. Soifer (*)
Department of Politics, Princeton University,
130 Corwin Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544–1012, USA

232 St Comp Int Dev (2008) 43:231–251

scholars, has rarely been rigorously conceptualized and precisely measured. This
article seeks to fill that void.1
In prominent recent scholarship, state strength has been shown to be crucial to
outcomes such as the emergence and persistence of insurgency, economic
development, and the quality of democracy. Two problems characterize the current
application of infrastructural power in these literatures. The first problem, addressed
in the introduction to this issue, is that many scholars rely on infrastructural power
without referring to it as such and without drawing on Mann’s conceptual apparatus.
This has limited the cumulation of knowledge about which aspects of the state are
crucial in these literatures, since scholars have developed a broad variety of
terminology to refer to the infrastructural power of the state. Second, scholars have
not recognized that distinct ways to study the state’s power can be drawn from
Mann’s concept.2 As a result, there has been insufficient realization of how much a
range of findings about state power may capture the same underlying concept, and
this has limited how much scholars utilize the analytical tools of Mann’s conceptual
Given the utility of infrastructural power to a broad range of scholarship, a
rigorous exploration of Mann’s concept and the measurement strategies it entails has
significant payoffs. The conceptual analysis in this article provides the tools for
scholars to precisely conceptualize infrastructural power, and to more closely
integrate conceptual precision into their measurement.
I identify below three analytical approaches to infrastructural power. The first
approach captures the capabilities of the central state, the second conceptualizes
infrastructural power in terms of its territorial reach,3 and the third focuses on the
effects of the state on society.4 These three distinct analytical lenses in Mann’s
concept provide three ways to conceptualize the state’s power to implement policy
throughout the territory it claims to govern. Examples of work that take each of these
three approaches are used to illustrate the connections between each and Mann’s
concept. The identification of these distinct lenses makes infrastructural power more
concrete, and shows its broad applicability. Any attempt to demonstrate the broad
relevance of a concept is vulnerable to charges of conceptual stretching. In addition
to developing three approaches to infrastructural power, I address this by delineating
boundaries between the infrastructural power of the state and other aspects of its
power. This complements the discussion of the relationship between infrastructural
power, autonomy, and bureaucratic “Weberianess” in the introduction to this issue.

I am grateful for the comments of Miguel Angel Centeno, Matt Lange, James Mahon, Ryan Saylor, Dan
Slater, Milan Vaishnav, and Daniel Ziblatt. Matthias vom Hau has greatly shaped my thinking on the state
over the past several years.
Joel Migdal et al. (1994) echoes these concerns, calling for a more explicit application of Mann’s
concept, and for more analyses of the local weight of the state, and of the relations between the state’s
commanding heights and its local representatives.
In addition to uneven reach over territory, states are often marked by uneven penetration of society. This
aspect of unevenness is explored in more detail below.
A similar conceptualization of infrastructural power can be found in Ziblatt (2006: 13), who argues that
infrastructural power encompasses three distinct dimensions: “(1) state rationalization, (2) state
institutionalization, and (3) embeddedness of the state in society.”

which are amply demonstrated in the articles that follow in this issue.5 An illustration of the distinction between the two types of power is aptly captured by Alexis de Tocqueville’s The Old Regime and the French Revolution. . but this simplification aids in the precise definition of state infrastructural power. as several examples show. the careful design of a measurement strategy within the framework of the chosen approach can pay off by generating precise measures of state infrastructural power that match the theoretical framework of the research project to which they are applied. and carefully matching measurement to conceptualization. Alternatively. showing that the analytical approach chosen has implications for measurement. scholars can test precisely the causal mechanisms of their theories that build on the ability of the state to implement policies and exercise territorial and social control. Each of these has been commonly applied. Mann and the State: The Concept of Infrastructural Power To analyze the concept of infrastructural power. These are infrastructural and despotic power. The first choice faced by researchers who seek to deploy the concept is to identify which approach best suits their theoretical framework. despotic power is more closely related to the Marxist tradition of scholarship about the autonomy of the state.St Comp Int Dev (2008) 43:231–251 233 The article also addresses measurement issues within each of these approaches. By carefully selecting the appropriate framing of infrastructural power based on theoretical relevance. I then highlight examples of effective measurement that have built on each analytical approach. For a more detailed analysis of how Mann’s conceptual framework (which includes many aspects of the state and of power beyond the one explored in this collection) fits into these traditions of statist analysis. A brief conclusion reflects on the potential payoffs from careful conceptual development and measurement. This distinction does to some extent reify the differences between the Marxist and Weberian traditions. The discussion in the second part provides some guidelines for that decision. showing the costs of misalignment between approach and measurement strategy. in which he suggests that “the sovereign should punish immediately any fault that he discovers. As discussed in the introduction to this collection. The first part of the article derives three aspects of infrastructural power from Mann’s definition of the concept and his broader analysis of the state and its relations to society. and the second part details the three analytical approaches to infrastructural power. while infrastructural power is connected to the Weberian tradition of the state as a set of institutions that exercise control over territory and regulate social relations. The misalignment of measurement and conceptualization creates serious costs in the reliability of the research. Mann develops “two different senses in which states and their elites might be considered powerful” (p. 113). with reference to several examples of influential and recent research. it is useful to begin with the genealogy of the concept provided by Mann himself. but he 5 Mann himself (1993: 58–59) has recognized the relationship of his two concepts to these two distinct traditions of statist analysis. The third part moves on to issues of measurement. In his 1984 essay. see Hall and Schroeder (2006).

and Soifer (2008) have explored the analytical power of informal institutions in the contexts of infrastructurally weak states. But the state may not fully exercise control of the territory within its borders. Helmke and Levitsky (2004).” to borrow a phrase from Shue (1988). in other words. and is protected by the application of force. in this analogy. Mann adds the state’s “differentiated set of institutions and personnel” and its “monopoly of authoritative decision-making. Mann begins this task by unpacking Max Weber’s definition of the state into three layers of concepts that it contains. as Mann defines it. adds bureaucracy to these layers.7 He argues that Weber’s discussion of the state includes three layers: political power. Fundamentally territorial. the state cannot directly exercise control from the center. Harvard University. the strategies and outcomes of politics are shaped less by formal institutions than by informal institutions. is an often unexamined scope condition in the application of formal institutional analysis. in other words. in Mann’s framework. State infrastructural power.” . in a process studied by Charles Tilly (1975. is defined with reference to the “political relations [which] radiate outwards from a center to cover a territorially demarcated area” (1984: 112). State elites need to rely on representatives to act on their behalf as they implement policies and seek to control and regulate social 6 This citation is from Kalyvas (2006: 174). 7 This discussion is based on the delineation of his view of the state in Mann (1993).9 States consist of a central elite that interacts with a society constituted by a variety of overlapping power networks. determines how far into society a bureaucracy. The addition of legitimate authority and the monopoly of force to the territorial basis of political power institutionalized the control of the state. greater divergence from the outcomes predicted by theories that build on the formal institutions of politics. The modern state is an administrative form by which the monopoly of legitimate force over territory is administered.”6 The despotic power or ability to punish. The modern state. The place of infrastructural power within the Weberian conceptualization of the state must be more carefully analyzed beyond its distinction from despotic power.8 The state. 8 This implies that only where the state effectively penetrates society should we expect that the formal institutions of politics can adequately explain outcomes of interest. Infrastructural power. He describes political power as the base layer. Its infrastructural power. Ichino (Thugs and Voters. no matter how professional. which captures infrastructural power. In these contexts. unpublished paper). In a country of any significant size (in terms of either population or territory). is distinct from the ability to monitor and receive information. the state. 1992) and other scholars of the emergence of the territorial state. is the aspect of the state that determines how far its bureaucracy can reach to exert control and regulate social relations. or the de facto “reach of the state. To these two components (radiation of political relations and territorial demarcation). The state as the monopoly of legitimate force emerged over time and became layered over political power. Mann argues that the bureaucratic “iron cage” of the Weberian modern state rests on the foundation of the territorial state. Where states penetrate society weakly and cannot enforce laws. can reach.234 St Comp Int Dev (2008) 43:231–251 cannot flatter himself into supposing that he sees all the faults he should punish. 9 See Herbst (2000) for a similar analysis of the state as radiating authority from the center into the national territory. political power predated the origin of the institution of the state. and the modern state.

and society suggests three distinct facets of state infrastructural power. The three approaches are summarized in Table 1. The central contribution of this article is to delineate the research strategies that can be built on the exploration of these three facets. which focuses instead on the differential utility of the three aspects across theoretical contexts.St Comp Int Dev (2008) 43:231–251 235 relations within the territory it claims to govern. (2) the state has institutions which radiate through society and territory. and Soifer (2006) among many others. it has no infrastructural power. The first is a national capabilities approach that sees state infrastructural power as a characteristic of the central state and highlights the extent of the resources at its disposal for exercising this power via its institutions of 10 The forms of administration of society and territory are traditionally divided into direct rule and indirect rule. This inconsistency is an artifact of measurement rather than theory. the indirect relationship between the central state and society captures the capabilities of the state to exercise control. I do not explore this issue in detail in this paper. Three Approaches to State Infrastructural Power The three approaches developed below and described in Table 1 can briefly be summarized as follows. The effects of the design of institutions of administration on the power of the state is the subject of work by scholars such as Waldner (1999). This means that we can build the following mathematical model of state infrastructural power. of the state on societal power networks. and to central state elites.11 The second section of this article develops these three approaches in detail. 11 Goertz (2005: 42–49) cautions that conceptual development requires explicit definition of the aggregation rule. In this framing. where a state completely lacks the power implicit in any of these three relationships. assuming for the moment that we could quantify each of these three aspects. A focus on the relationships between three collective actors: central state leaders. which explains how the underlying concept combines its components. we can treat each as a necessary (but insufficient) condition for the identification of high infrastructural power in a specific case. On the other hand. and (3) the state shapes society at the local level. Thus. the relationship between the central state and its radiating institutions captures the spatial reach of the state and its subnational variation. Given the broad relevance of each of the three aspects. as discussed further below. the relationship between the central state and society is assessed post hoc. or weight. and could be resolved if we could measure the power of the state in this third relationship independent of its effects. . State infrastructural power relates to the set of relationships that link these institutions of control to the local communities they penetrate.10 These representatives of the state are the embodiment of the political relations radiating outward from the center in Mann’s definition of the state. and that each has equal causal weight: State infrastructural power = (state capabilities) × (spatial reach) × (effects on society) There is one notable inconsistency among the three attributes. and each can be explored as one approach to the study of Mann’s concept. while the third section provides guidelines for measurement of infrastructural power which build on each approach. The first two are necessary conditions that must exist for its exercise by the central state. the radiating institutions of control on which they rely. capturing the effects of the state. Each relationship reveals an aspect of the power of the central state to exercise control in its interactions with societal actors throughout the territory within its borders. and the relationship between the radiating state institutions and society captures the effects. The infrastructural power of the state is shaped by how much (1) the central state has the capabilities at hand to exercise control over society. Ertman (1997).

To measure it. and vom Hau take the “national capabilities” approach in the articles in this issue. Although resources do not measure what James Mahoney (2004.12 The second approach captures the weight of the state and highlights how the exercise of state power shapes the society it controls. This resource-based view draws on the notion of power as a dispositional attribute—one that exists as a potentiality that an actor can choose to activate (Morriss 2002). p. state infrastructural power is a characteristic of the central state. 265). Lange and Balian. capabilities are analytically distinct from resources. In this approach.15 These resources could be used 12 Slater. and even the identities. It sees power as the capability to exercise control—a view consistent with most analyses of power. this approach assesses the resources at the disposal of the state for exercising control over society and territory. invariant within a particular country.14 To measure the extent of state capabilities. we can see how each addresses the conceptual issues that surround the idea of power in general. 14 See for example Mahoney (2004).13 Striking a middle ground between the other two approaches. Theoretical analyses of infrastructural power should focus on capabilities and choose the most analytically relevant resource for measurement purposes.236 St Comp Int Dev (2008) 43:231–251 Table 1 Three approaches to state infrastructural power Approach State capabilities Weight of the state Subnational variation Key relationship Central state and Radiating institutions and Central state and radiating society society institutions Sample Fiscal resources Effects on identity Spatial spread of institutions of components Size of army control GNP per capita Outcomes of state policy Empirical Mann (1993) Weber (1976) Kalyvas (2006) examples Straus (2006) Vaughan (1997) Goodwin (1999) Soifer (2006) control. The National Capabilities Approach The first framing of state infrastructural power highlights the relationship between the “commanding heights” of the state and its institutions of control over society. of societal actors. . 15 Note that while the capabilities of the central state might be measured by the resources at its disposal. As Jack Goldstone writes. The third approach focuses on subnational variation in the ability of the state to exercise control within its territory. In the development of these three approaches. we could imagine constructing an index of the resources available to state leaders. p. “the degree of infrastructural power corresponds to the resources that a leader can command to pursue a goal” (2006. 474) calls “emanation”—the degree that capabilities are directed at a particular outcome. as well as the relationship between state and society. it seeks to maintain a focus on the capabilities of the state while taking into account that these may vary spatially or socially. perhaps as an upper bound. delineating its effects on the actions. 13 Ziblatt and Schensul take the “subnational variation” approach in this issue. and are thus analytically distinct from power itself—they do serve as a crude approximation of the extent of state capabilities.

Chap. This 16 A more thorough accounting of the complex relationship between legitimacy and infrastructural power is developed in vom Hau’s article in this issue. they could be the institutions of control and regulation themselves: the number of police officers or soldiers (or tax collectors) that the state could deploy to exercise power throughout its territory—or the extent of legitimacy at its disposal in motivating societal acquiescence to its control. The extent that state leaders can implement policy is particularly striking in the case of genocide.17 The national capabilities approach to state infrastructural power is the most commonly applied of the three possible framings. allowing them to implement policy throughout the national territory. In volume two of his Sources of Social Power (1993.” It reveals how much autonomy the central state has from the actors from which revenue is extracted.16 The particular nature of the resources considered could vary widely. This fits well with Mann’s conceptualization of infrastructural power as the set of levers at the disposal of central state leaders. 17 Centeno (2002) and Soifer (2008) use the census as a measure of this aspect of infrastructural power. data on expenditures reveals the resources available to state leaders. He finds that state leaders were (with few exceptions) uniformly able to impose their genocidal policies in each region of the country until that region fell to the invading RPF army. but the crucial characteristic of this approach is that it sees these resources as indicative of the extent of power state leaders have to control societal relations and territory. 361) “clues us into the state’s relation with power actors in civil society.” Controlling for the size of the national economy. and for inflation. 11) Mann assesses the extent of state infrastructural power in the major countries of Western Europe and the USA by tracking trends over time in the revenues and expenditures of national governments. the common application of this framing of infrastructural power likely has resulted because Mann himself applied it in his own empirical work. which sees it as a fundamental attribute of the state. One factor underlying the ubiquity of its application is the relative ease of data collection—scholars need only collect national level data about the resources and capabilities of the state. Alternatively. In addition.St Comp Int Dev (2008) 43:231–251 237 to construct the radiating institutions that allow the state to exercise control of society: they could be financial resources. “expenditure reveals state functions. Data on revenue (p. Most scholars (Goldhagen 1996 is one exception) argue that genocide depends on the ability of state leaders to lead thousands of people to carry out atrocities against their fellow citizens. It is surprising that Mann neglected legitimacy since his definition of the state is firmly in the Weberian tradition. which is easier to acquire than the information required for the alternative approaches—in particular when cross-national statistical methods are applied. for population. . Scott Straus (2006) uses evidence from structured interviews with hundreds of Hutu perpetrators to uncover the factors that caused their participation in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. making state infrastructural power a natural object of study for these scholars. arguing that it provides the state with the information necessary to assert control over society. State expenditures reflect the state’s infrastructural power—as Mann writes.

The Rwandan state’s power can depend on the geographic context without concluding that geography either causes or constitutes state power. Straus frames the Rwandan “leviathan” in terms of the resources available to the central state.238 St Comp Int Dev (2008) 43:231–251 homogeneity in the ability of the Rwandan state to implement its policies leads Straus to focus on state power as an attribute of the central state.” Genocide perpetrators describe the state as a “leviathan. Rwanda in 1994 combines a state with high despotic power (the ability to order a wide range of policies implemented) with conditions that allowed the enforcement of even its genocidal policies. Like Mann. whether sought as victims. 18 We might see geography as a contextual variable. and thus served as a resource that the state could use to implement policies. “there [was] no hiding place from the infrastructural reach of the modern state” (1984: 114). despite their divergent conceptualizations of the resources that underlie infrastructural power. the tradition of unpaid labor mobilization also played a crucial role in the genocide. Both Mann and Straus define infrastructural power as the capability of the state to implement policies and exercise control. As a result. In Rwanda. or to compel participation. Since precolonial times. If the reach of the state was facilitated by geographic factors. “Rwanda’s citizenry is eminently findable. geography is not constitutive of power itself. . These programs normalized the mobilization of large portions of the population. which facilitates or constrains the ability of the state to deploy its resources to reach through territory and exercise control.” In Straus’ account. Straus argues. Drawing on his interviews. But these resources.18 The hilly topography and the heavily settled land “increase the capacity for surveillance. “the Rwandan state has unusual depth and resonance at the local level” (p. 202) and mobilize the civilian population on a large scale. This meant that control of the central state gave Hutu hardliners “the capacity to enforce their decisions nationwide. and measure it in terms of the resources— whether financial or institutional—which allow it to do so. For both authors. and are struck that “the idea of authority was so resonant in Rwandan society” (p. 8) throughout the country. including the genocide. but determines the efficiency with which state resources can be translated into power. the state is seen as a leviathan standing astride society. even a fiscally poor state like Rwanda can have a great deal of infrastructural power since the tradition of massive mobilization made its policies easy to implement. The pervasive reach of the state. In this manner. and exercising its capabilities to control both population and territory. This view of the state is complemented by a very different approach taken by scholars who focus on the local weight of the state and move away from its capabilities to study its effects on the population it seeks to control. Rwandese participated in two unpaid mandatory labor programs: umuganda and amarondo. to quote Mann. was facilitated by features of Rwanda’s physical and human geography. for Straus. 215). and on the tradition of unpaid labor mobilization in Rwanda.” which compelled their participation. Straus focuses on the permissive geographic context. In seeking to explain how much the Rwandan state could “command compliance” (p. are not fiscal. and they limit the opportunities for exit and escape” (p. 202). Straus argues. As such.

One particularly salient issue in bounding the concept of infrastructural power is the question of intentionality. who argues that power should be defined as affect rather than effect to restrict the domain of power to the effects of intentional action. For example. If infrastructural power is conceptualized as the effects of the state on societal actors. which has led to the emergence of indigenous mobilization in response to the emergence of a neoliberal citizenship regime (Yashar 2005). 2001). but focuses on the specific local manifestations of the state—its radiating institutions—and their impact on society. Conceptualizing power as “weight” raises the question of the range of effects seen as power. the degree that the state can produce its intended effects is the center of Mann’s concept. as Mann defined it. Limiting the scope of state power to intentional action aligns with the finding (Yashar 1999) that infrastructural power is associated with more limited unintended consequences from state actions.” The second approach to infrastructural power is therefore more reluctant to assess power based on the resources at the disposal of the central state. Many scholars warn against the conflation of the two. it is precisely the infrastructural weakness of Andean states. is the ability of the state to implement its policies—which suggests that it must be limited to the realm of intentional effects. this approach does not assess power in terms of the resources of the state. both the intended and unintended consequences of state actions shed light on the infrastructural power of the state. This view of state power as the production of intentional effects fits very well with the conceptualization of power proposed by Morriss (2002). and trace the complicated relationship between the radiating state institutions and the societies that they seek to control. “brought the state back in. While unintended consequences highlight its limitations. but left the people out.” In addition. Scholars often focus on how societal power networks and identities are transformed by interaction with the state. Scholars who take this approach to infrastructural power assess it as the extent of state effects on society.St Comp Int Dev (2008) 43:231–251 239 The Weight of the State Approach The relationship between capabilities and power has been one of much contention in the philosophical investigation of power. examining the extent that the late . Thus. and more concerned with how states are limited and constructed by nonstate actors. there is a concern that the theoretical focus on the internal dynamics of the state has. in the words of Gilbert Joseph and Daniel Nugent (1994: 11). “there simply exists the underlying assumption that additional increments of resources are somehow converted into additional corresponding increments of power. we must ask whether state power can only be evaluated by assessing how much the state can shape society as it seeks to do. Snider (1987: 317) criticizes the conception of state power in terms of capabilities. whether collective or individual. Alan Knight (2002) described this approach as the assessment of the “weight of the state”—which captures how much the radiating state institutions weigh on societal actors. Infrastructural power. and this has been a criticism leveled against the “state capabilities” approach to infrastructural power outlined above. Eugen Weber’s Peasants into Frenchmen (1976) is perhaps the paradigmatic study that takes this approach to state power. Paying more attention to how states are shaped by the societies they claim to regulate and control (Migdal 1988. arguing.

In the 1930s. Although his study explores local variation in the extent of this transformation based on the countless anecdotes from towns throughout the country. described in more detail below. She examines how much teachers were able to turn their schools into a means of modernizing and nationalizing the rural 19 Weber’s study is a complement.19 Mary Kay Vaughan’s (1997: 5) study of education after the Mexican Revolution also takes the weight of the state approach to infrastructural power. or the number of teachers it hired. rule. 210) and transformed “peasants into Frenchmen” during the next several decades.” as Weber exhaustively demonstrates. . they designed a program called “socialist education. In many parts of the “periphery. Her work focuses on the interaction between teachers and their communities in the states of Sonora and Puebla. This study of homogenization and modernization complements the traditional view that the French state’s power dates back at least to the French Revolution. an assessment of state power based on its effects. and development. Defeat in the war with Prussia prompted state leaders to undertake the Freycinet plan. Rather than take either of these approaches. which was reflected in the construction of roads and railroads. The ability of the state to produce these changes in French society uncovers the extent of its infrastructural power. to the many analyses of state formation in Europe that highlight the early emergence of the French state. the fiscal resources at its disposal. Weber’s focus is on the extent that the French state homogenized French society as a result of the increased presence of the national state in communities throughout the country.” To this end. The increased penetration of the French state into the countryside in the late nineteenth century could be studied by measuring the increased capabilities of the French state—for instance. the French state had no “weight” until after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870–1871. the careful distinction between infrastructural power and other aspects of the state highlights ambiguities in the conceptual frameworks of “state formation” and “state building.240 St Comp Int Dev (2008) 43:231–251 nineteenth-century French state’s actions produced the intended effect. had not extended its power into rural regions.” which can be resolved with more clarity about what aspect or aspects of the state are being “formed” or “built.” I thank Dan Slater for bringing this point to my attention. rather than a rejoinder. Weber demonstrates the state’s role in transforming the identities and self-definitions of French peasants.” which implied a major educational reform. which “carried the regime’s influence into the countryside” (p. and that had a high level of despotic power. Weber shows that even a state that was infrastructurally powerful in terms of the resources available to the central state. and the arrival of schoolteachers and other state representatives in communities throughout the country. as in the third approach to infrastructural power. Weber studies the changes in the French countryside and argues that these reflect the increased power of the state. His evidence of state power is the increase in the number of peasants who spoke French and thought of themselves as French. Mexican state leaders “became convinced of [the] need and capacity to transform culture for purposes of integration. changes in conscription practices. It could also be studied by mapping the spread of state institutions through the national territory. In this way.

”22 In other words. it must be bounded conceptually: the set of aspects of the state not included in infrastructural power must be clearly defined. As a result. postrevolutionary Mexican teachers personified the radiating institutions of the state. for instance. which can be cumulated in this case because of the care both scholars take to specify their conception of state power. by creating certain subjects and social identities and denying others through administrative routines. In his focus on the ability of the Mexican state to transform the content of nationalism.” Foucault’s discussion of state power highlights the “technologies. This discussion of Foucault’s analysis of power is based on Foucault (1977. Like Weber’s study of France. Vaughan’s investigation of the limited social transformation achieved by the Mexican state reveals the extent of its infrastructural power. Approaching infrastructural power as the weight of the state raises the question of whether all effects of the state on society should be considered. If state infrastructural power is to be a useful conceptual tool. 1991). vom Hau studies the relationship between teachers and the ministry of education rather than mirroring Vaughan’s focus on the interaction between teachers and local communities. with significant variation shaped by the local context in which teachers operated. Foucault explores how state power operates more broadly and manifests itself in the ability to discipline society at large. This illustrates the distinct insights generated by divergent approaches to the study of infrastructural power. and the related distinction between state power and “state formation.” which at first glance seems to fit well with Mann’s conception 20 The example of Vaughan’s work is particularly useful in illuminating this approach to infrastructural power because it can be compared to the analysis of the Mexican state’s project of social transformation provided by vom Hau in this issue.St Comp Int Dev (2008) 43:231–251 241 populations of these two states—the focus of her work is the extent of divergence between intention and outcome.20 In their role as the representatives of the central state charged with implementing its policies.21 Two steps in that direction are the distinction between views of state power espoused by Mann and Michel Foucault. 22 I thank Miguel Angel Centeno for bringing this issue to my attention. which reflects the extent of infrastructural power. these means of control seek to shape people’s self-conceptions and behaviors to make them more disciplined and orderly. By challenging the distinction between state and society. There is also an important distinction between infrastructural power and the study of “state formation. quotidian rituals. While Mann’s infrastructural power is that of the autonomous state. Foucault moves away from the idea of a potentially autonomous state with intentions that is central to Mann’s concept of infrastructural power. the transformation of Mexican rural society through education was more limited. This resistance induced teachers to moderate the decrees they received from the education ministry in Mexico City. .” which the state constructs as a means of exercising control over society through the “conduct of conduct. They confronted the reality of local communities less than willing to transform themselves to meet the state’s vision of modernity and development. which finds that the Mexican state was more successful in some of its educational goals than in Vaughan’s account. or outright oppression. 21 See Goertz (2005) for a discussion of the importance of boundedness in conceptual construction. The finding that societal power networks shape the effects of the state is consonant with the arguments of Migdal (1988) about the effects of society on the power of the state.

the capabilities of the state vary subnationally: the state is not homogeneously powerful throughout the national territory. lacks both the intention and the concreteness that are central to the concept of state infrastructural power. This territorial variation in state power fits well with the study of insurgency and domestic conflict since conflict is fundamentally territorial. Subnational Variation Approach A third approach to state infrastructural power focuses on the uneven reach of the state. it enjoys substantial prominence among cultural historians working on state formation in Latin America (see Nugent and Alonso 1994). they are distinct from Mann’s focus on the radiation of concrete state institutions through society. The territorial unevenness of the state has been the focus of much more systematic analysis. Thus. Many studies of the dynamics of insurgency conceive of the infrastructural power of the state in terms of the spread of institutions of control through the national territory. . scholars have approached infrastructural power in terms of the reach of state institutions across territory to control and regulate social relations. whose weight is revealed through the extent that they produce intended outcomes. 24 This social reach. By showing that infrastructural power can be conceived as the weight of the state on society. This article also identifies the bounds of Mann’s concept rather than arguing for its ubiquity. as scholars who have focused on the uneven relationship between the state and societal sectors have tended to focus on the state’s autonomy from social actors rather than its power over them. Striking a middle ground between the two approaches described above.242 St Comp Int Dev (2008) 43:231–251 of infrastructural power as “the essence of the routinized powers of states” (Mann 2006: 353). 23 This approach to the state informs a variety of substantive research agendas. There has been little systematic exploration of this aspect of the state’s power. while calling for more research on other dimensions of unevenness. explored in the introduction to this issue. and the external bounds of Mann’s concept. is a focus of O’Donnell (1993). Where accounts of state formation23 focus on how a disembodied state “works through us” via “cultural forms which penetrate deep into civil society. In this approach. I delineate both the distinction between this and the two other approaches of state power.” (Corrigan and Sayer 1985). its reach is uneven over territory and over societal actors. The great arch conceptualization of the state. so popular among cultural historians. This approach allows the identification of geographic areas where the state is more and less able to exercise authority. this aspect of the state must be distinguished from its ability to reach into society and implement policy. it seeks to maintain a view of power based on the capabilities of the state rather than measuring state power in terms of its effects. Thus.24 Because the state has more power in some regions than others reflects the limited reach of its radiating institutions through the national territory. Whereas this perspective makes clear the wide range of arenas in which the weight of the state is experienced. centered on the varied ability of a particular state to exercise control within its territory. For instance. the discussion here will focus on the territorial unevenness of the state’s reach.

pivots on control. Kalyvas argues that where states (or insurgents) have infrastructural power. Goodwin argues that “revolutions are unlikely … where the state effectively governs throughout the national territory”25 (p. mostly in the Amazonian region of the country. Many states. like its neighbors. and sees it as potentially uneven. who asks why some African states are more able than others to exercise what he calls “authority over distance. Goodwin conceives of state infrastructural power as the territorial reach of the coercive capacity of the state through the national territory. The ability of the coercive actor to compel compliance from the population depends on its construction of an effective infrastructure of administra- tion that can register inhabitants and control the population. Where citizens comply with the coercive actor by informing on opponents.” also explores this conception of infrastructural power. 26 Because his theory incorporates the extent of control exercised by both incumbents and insurgents. Geographic areas where the state is weak provide lacunae in which revolutionaries can organize and evade repression. has never exercised effective control over the Amazon. which he defines as the ability of armed actors (incumbents and insurgents) to exercise “exclusive rule on a territory”26 (p. particularly in the developing world. have only limited territorial reach—one example of this is the fact that at least 5% of the Peruvian population. To explain the success of insurgent movements. The territorial reach of the state defines the geographic area within which its policies can be enforced. Kalyvas is concerned with the ability of both state and nonstate actors to penetrate society and implement their chosen policies. The level of control shapes how much individual members of society collaborate with the claimant to power—the ability of the coercive actor to compel compliance and implement policies. they will not need to resort to indiscriminate violence to compel compliance from the civilian population. Stathis Kalyvas explains the patterns of violence against civilians in civil wars. 29.4. it takes a broader view of control than does the concept of state infrastructural power. He acknowledges the significance of Theda Skocpol’s (1979) analysis of the state in terms of the institutional linkages between states and elites (the autonomy of the state) and the nature of its bureaucracy (state capacity) in the study of revolutions. His book raises the possibility that we can conceive of nonstate actors as having infrastructural power. like Goodwin’s.27 A map of the reach of state institutions would show 25 Goodwin (1999) graphically portrays the relationship between these three dimensions of the state and the probability of revolutionary emergence and success in Fig. .St Comp Int Dev (2008) 43:231–251 243 Jeff Goodwin’s No Other Way Out (1999) makes the case for adding the territorial reach of the state to the other dimensions addressed in earlier scholarship on revolutions. In other words. 111). p. His theory. 27 Yashar (2005) has argued that the Peruvian state. 1. which fits well with recent analyses of insurgent state building. violence is predominantly selective. But where the coercive actor cannot compel compliance—in particular where reliable informants are not sufficiently available—it has to resort to indiscriminate violence as a means of enforcing order. were unable to participate in that country’s 2006 elections because they had not been issued official identity cards. With a similar attention to the territorial unevenness of coercive capacity. 27). Herbst (2000).

reminding us of the importance of state power beyond the “functional”/”failed” dichotomy that characterizes the study of state failure. passports. retinal scans.28 Recent events have called the attention of scholars and policymakers to failed and collapsed states. [and] … lose authority over large sections of territory” (Rotberg 2004: 6).29 These terms describe countries in which states. He suggests that “the extent of a state’s failure can be measured by the extent of its geographical expanse genuinely controlled (especially after dark) by the official government” (ibid. or on the size and capacity of the tax bureaucracy: the resources available to the state for tax collection (Gallo 1991).). In defining it as “the essence of the routinized powers of states. A focus on the weight of the state as the measure of infrastructural power would examine how taxation changed local practices such as patterns of landholding (Scott 1998). However.244 St Comp Int Dev (2008) 43:231–251 systematically where the state is and is not capable of enforcing its policies. Finally. and thus capture this approach to infrastructural power. A national capabilities approach to infrastructural power would focus on the logistical techniques available to the state— the technologies of fingerprinting. a precise delineation of this analytical lens also clarifies an external bound of the concept of infrastructural power. and the like. The state can have very low levels of infrastructural power—as conceptualized by any of the three approaches developed in this article—and still be far from “collapsed” or “failed. On the other hand. this way of assessing the reach of the state appears to fall within with the radiating institutions approach to infrastructural power. It is important to remember that infrastructural power must remain distinct from the state’s power as raw coercion. 29 For a recent critique of the conceptual framework of state failure. A scholar taking the national capabilities approach—the first approach described above—would likely focus on the quantity of tax which the state extracted. . the reach of state institutions through territory is an analytically distinct aspect of the state—explored in work such as Boone (2003). whose relevance to infrastructural power is clear.” From Concept to Measurement To illustrate the distinction between these three approaches to the study of infrastructural power. a study that explored the territorial variation in the ability of the state to compel compliance would focus on the territorial incidence of taxation (Soifer 2006).” Mann (2006: 353) separates infrastructural power from the force of the state. “cannot control their peripheral regions. Another illustration can be found in the study of state practices of identification. approaching this issue in terms of the weight of the state would look at how 28 Although recent years have seen much analysis of the formal institutional relations between center and periphery (most notably the massive literature on federalism). according to Robert Rotberg. At first glance. we might imagine a scholar seeking to study taxation as a reflection of the ability of the state to impose policies on society. see di John (2008).” Mann’s concept highlights the wide range of variation in state power among and within states that function quite adequately. Infrastructural power refers to the ability of the state to exercise more authority than the bare monopoly of force which defines the minimum condition of “stateness.

my focus here is on the more abstract issues of research design that relate to the operationalization of the concept of state infrastructural power. Measurement is a separate challenge from conceptualization. In the study of insurgency. which relate to the coding of cases. to conceptualize infrastructural power in terms of this territorial variation. its effects. it is appropriate to follow the lead of Eugen Weber and explore the state’s power in terms of its effect on the identity and discourse of citizens. for example. Scholars of nationalism often focus on the ability of the state to inculcate the population with a belief in its officially constructed discourse of national identity. It is therefore most appropriate. and reliability. in that context.30 Finally. and decisions about the former must be made after choosing a conceptualization of infrastructural power.St Comp Int Dev (2008) 43:231–251 245 these technologies of identification have transformed social identities.31 Scholars have undertaken all three of these approaches to the study of these aspects of state power. On the other hand.33 Inattention to measurement validity can render empirical research unconvincing. Of particular salience is the issue of alignment: scholars must take care to measure infrastructural power with indicators that capture the aspect of the concept incorporated into their theories. it is appropriate to view the state’s power in terms of its capability to impose policies on a population. The validity of the chosen measurement strategy is particularly important: a measurement strategy is only valid when the indicator chosen captures the underlying concept itself. the territorial variation in the reach of the state is theorized to be relevant to the emergence and success of insurgency. scholars must also be attentive to the issue of aggregation: how multiple indicators are combined to score a particular case. as scholars of the Rwandan genocide have explored in detail. Whatever the choice made. while carefully designed measurement is necessary for the generation of compelling findings. the failure to distribute national identity cards to the population of the Peruvian Amazon mentioned above. When the measurement strategy captures a different aspect of infrastructural power from that which is theorized. 32 See vom Hau’s article in this collection and Darden and Grzymala-Busse (2006) on this question.34 One recent illustration of 30 See for example Mamdani (2002). But the approach taken must be informed by the question of interest that underlies the research question. 33 If multiple indicators are used. scholars must also be attentive to its measurement. 31 This paragraph is based on a set of distinctions drawn in Caplan and Torpey (2001: 3). 34 See Adcock and Collier (2001) and Lieberman (2002) for discussions of the consequences of choices about measurement. Having made a decision about the conceptual approach to infrastructural power. and to the study of infrastructural power more generally. a local variation approach would focus on the variant ability of the state to put these available technologies to use —studying. the approach to infrastructural power must be selected explicitly with reference to the theoretical framework under analysis. In the context of that literature. Although these are major concerns.32 In this vein. it imprecisely tests the causal mechanism proposed in the theory being tested. and the resources at its disposal to do so. the ability of the state to extract revenue from the population underlies its success in warfare—a finding central to the “bellicist” approach to state formation exemplified by the work of Tilly (1992). rather than its causes. . or a different aspect of the state altogether. Other issues central to measurement are replicability.

they argue that the territorial reach of the state is the crucial aspect of infrastructural power in determining the emergence of insurgencies. As Goodwin himself acknowledges (p. . In other words. it should be noted. than the GDP per capita measure proposed by Fearon and Laitin. In their statistical analysis. The authors show that state weakness. Yet.35 The second is measured by density of highways and railroads and the proportion of military aircraft to the size of the national territory. The same level of GDP per capita could be associated with a state that deploys its resources to exercise a moderate level of coercion nationwide. 80). we would expect insurgency to be more likely in the second hypothetical state above than in the first. but no presence in more remote areas of the country. the measures of state infrastructural power as capabilities are more adequate than the measures of the reach of the state through territory. it seems as though the measurement of the subnational variation in the reach of the state is particularly difficult. and government revenue as a percentage of GDP. a more compelling examination of the role of infrastructural power in insurgency can be found in Goodwin (1999). the means of coercion available to the state and the material means underlying these. a measure of state power that captures territorial reach must be constructed. is territorially invariant. The first is measured with data on military expenditures per capita. and it is shown to be strongly related to the rise of insurgency. Goodwin then develops measures of both of these aspects of infrastructural power. rather than ethnic heterogeneity. The level of GDP per capita—even if related to the resources available to the state as it seeks to exercise coercion against insurgents—tells us nothing about where the state is strong and weak. In contrast to Fearon and Laitin’s strategy. testing the role of infrastructural power in suppressing and defeating insurgencies. As a result. To test this relationship between state power as territorial reach and insurgency more convincingly. and second the ability to extend this repressive capacity through the national territory. This theoretical claim has been echoed by other scholars. GDP per capita is used as a measure of the reach of the state. His theory incorporates both the national capabilities and the subnational variation approaches to infrastructural power. armed forces as a proportion of the population. but Fearon and Laitin offer the first cross- national statistical investigation of the role of this aspect of state power in insurgencies. and is therefore misaligned with the causal mechanism operating in the argument. 250). Fearon and Laitin also fail to choose a measure that captures any dimension of infrastructural power. These are all more appropriate measures of national capabilities. many cross-national studies which 35 In addition to the misalignment between concept and measurement discussed above. however.246 St Comp Int Dev (2008) 43:231–251 such a failure to align conceptualization and measurement is James Fearon and David Laitin’s (2003) investigation of the causes of insurgency. His study compares the emergence and success of insurgencies in several Central American countries. according to the theory developed by Fearon and Laitin. This measure of state power. explains why insurgencies plague some countries and not others. He distinguishes between two relevant aspects of infrastructural power: first. or with a state which has the resources to effectively exercise coercion in the capital. Given the limitations of subnational data (Snyder 2001) and the heightened challenge that this poses to cross-national research (Herrera and Kapur 2007). Their causal mechanism is that “the reach of the state into rural areas” is “most important for the prospects of a nascent insurgency” (p.

A clear example of this problem can be seen in Weber’s Peasants into Frenchmen (1976). which fail to test the specified causal mechanisms. These effects are attributed by Weber to the increased weight of the state in the lives of French peasants. which characterized European state formation. the difficulty of measuring hegemony still remains. which can be generated from this operationalization of infrastructural power.37 Weber finds 36 This raises again the issue of aggregation: the question of how the extent of police presence. Soifer (2006) measures the territorial spread of military and police presence. a convincing demonstration that the state has had an effect requires the elimination of alternative explanations for the observed effects. . 37 By conceptualizing state-society relations as a process. and this is often difficult to do. another challenge to the empirical study of infrastructural power is the failure to address alternative explanations—a problem to which the weight of the state approach is particularly susceptible. Because we have no independent measure of the increased weight of the state apart from its effects. taxation. Capturing the effects of the state requires research designed not only to compare across time and contrast identity or behavior before and after state intervention. The assumption too commonly made is that a state that can tax can also exercise coercive power.36 In addition to the problem of misalignment between dimension and indicator discussed above. see especially Chap. oversees the content of education. scholars who explore the hegemony of state- society relations claim to solve this problem. Using indicators ranging from road networks (Herbst 2000) to records of court cases (Walker 1999). and tax extraction should be combined into a unitary measure of infrastructural power. educational oversight. But the measurement of state power in terms of its effects depends on the demonstration that the effects—in this case changes in identity—are not caused by other factors. See Mallon (1994). but also to demonstrate that the observed difference resulted from the increased presence of the state rather than from an alternative factor. and so forth: that state power is homogeneous across its arenas. The tremendous bulk of historical detail in his book reveals the massive and multifaceted investigation required to demonstrate the changes in French society over the course of the late nineteenth century. show explicitly where the state can exercise distinct aspects of control over society at any point in time. and public primary education through several Latin American countries. it demonstrates that it has infrastructural power. This misalignment results in statistical relationships. Yet there are some studies that precisely measure this territorial aspect of state power. The result of this assumption of homogeneity is that we lack precise categories for states with significant power divergences across arenas. The time series maps.The relationship between the various arenas of state power has been undertheorized beyond the virtuous cycle of taxation and military power. and collects taxes from the population. Kalyvas (2006. 8) is more successful in testing a different relationship between territorial reach and insurgency because he explicitly measures control as spatially variant.St Comp Int Dev (2008) 43:231–251 247 conceptualize infrastructural power in terms of this dimension rely on measures that are territorially invariant. Where the state operates primary schools. However. see Slater’s article in this issue and Loveman (2005). scholars can literally map the institutions of control that reach through the national territory to carry the authority of the state. scholars need to measure infrastructural power in a way that distinguishes power from its effects. For preliminary approaches to this important gap in the study of state development. In other words. and are therefore limited in their utility.

First. A similar warning applies to the measurement of the weight of the state where the threat of alternative explanations .248 St Comp Int Dev (2008) 43:231–251 that factors such as increased contact with other regions. theories with causal mechanisms that draw on this aspect of state power depend on the collection of appropriate data to measure the reach of the state. The weight of the state approach. Each of these three approaches is appropriate for a wide range of social research. and how much to socioeconomic modernization. The national capabilities approach focuses on the resources at the disposal of the central state. which can be leveraged to exercise control over society and regulate social relations. particularly in cross-national analysis. Although these challenges appear daunting. addressing them with care allows scholars to generate powerful insights about the ability of states to transform the societies within their borders. the concept of state infrastructural power is a powerful analytical tool when applied with care and precision. I have identified three possible approaches to infrastructural power. they must explicitly test and reject alternative explanations for the pattern of effects observed. The second guideline proposed in this article argues that the theoretically informed choices about conceptualization also have implications for measurement: It is crucial to select a measure of infrastructural power that captures the appropriate conceptualization: failure to do so leaves untested the causal mechanisms specified in the argument. focuses on the effects of the state on societal actors to observe its power in operation. Despite the data requirements for measurement of the territorial reach of the state. It is difficult to distinguish between the causal role of these two transformations of rural France—to know how much of the observed change in the identity of rural residents of France to attribute to the increased weight of the state. Scholars who conceive of infrastructural power as the weight of the state are particularly vulnerable to challenges based on alternative explanations. As opposed to both of these. and other elements of modernization also played a role in transforming French society along with the increased weight of the state. Since they have no measures of infrastructural power independent of its effects. These capture three distinct ways to conceptualize the ability of the state to penetrate society and successfully implement its policies. Conclusion As the articles in this issue show. increased mobility. I have argued that scholars need to be explicit about the approach taken to infrastructural power. but scholars must exercise caution in choosing the analytical lens that appropriately captures the relationship between state and society under investigation. and that they should make this decision based on the causal mechanisms elaborated in their theories where the state’s power plays a role. To aid in the task of connecting causal mechanisms to attributes of the state. since the ability of the state to penetrate society and implement its chosen policies is relevant to many areas of social research. in contrast. the subnational variation approach examines the potentially uneven reach of state institutions through territory. The conceptual discussion in this article has provided a set of guidelines for maximizing the payoffs of research into this important aspect of the state.

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