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The Power of Ideas: New Perspectives on State Capacity and Public Goods Provision

Research project
Active research
Project period
2019 - 2022
Project owner
Department of Political Science

Short description

This project generates new insights into the nature and expression of state power. Specifically, we examine the state’s ideational reach, or the ability of the state to engender compliance in the absence of coercion or economic incentives.

In our conceptualization, the state’s ideational reach is relational in the sense that it reflects the level of acceptance among the population of the state as the primary source of authority vis-á-vis other potential sources of authority. In the project, we distinguish ideational reach from other aspects of state capacity, illustrate its importance for policy implementation, and show how it can be compromised by different actors in the competition for legitimate authority. The conceptualization of state power in terms of ideational reach helps to resolve a number of empirical puzzles with considerable societal importance, including: the failure of “strong” states to effectively contain HIV/AIDS, corona virus and other deadly diseases, the persistence of police brutality in states with otherwise high functioning bureaucracies, the failure of otherwise strong states to reach out and effectively implement universal policies in some regions and or/communities, and widespread voluntary compliance with policy directives in states traditionally classified as weak. The project is financed by the Swedish Research Council and runs between 2019-2022. It employs a rich variety of methods, including comparative case studies, archival research, and statistical analysis. By focusing on how the state’s ideational reach shapes effective policy implementation, this project fills an important gap in the literatures on democratization, public goods provision, and sequencing. While these literatures emphasize the importance of state capacity, the state’s ideational reach has so far been largely absent from the discussion.