Unpacking states in the developing world: Capacity, performance, and politics

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

12 Scopus citations


Capable states are essential for promoting broad-based development; states must perform certain roles for any society to function. This proposition is now widely accepted. However, this general claim raises a set of other critical, complex, and poorly understood issues that deserve further attention. First, we do not adequately understand either the conceptual content of state capacity or its causal relationship to state performance. We need stronger and more plausible hypotheses about what explains state performance, in general, and why states are more effective in some parts of the developing world than in others, in particular. Moreover, we do not fully understand why, even among the more capable states, the ability to provide some valued goods is often in tension with the ability to provide other valued goods – resulting in varied levels of state performance across policy domains; in other words, why state capacity is not necessarily fungible across issue areas is not well understood. In what follows we initiate an analysis of these issues, delineating both what we know and what requires further research. The contributors to this volume take for granted that states matter, nay, matter deeply, for the pursuit of a variety of valued outcomes in the developing world. Thus, we shift our scholarly attention to the origins and types of states capable of promoting these valued goals. Our starting point is the fairly obvious observation that states in some regions of the developing world, say, East Asia, tend to be more effective than states in other regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa, with a variety of other states in Latin America and South Asia falling somewhere in between on the performance continuum; we want to know why. We also begin with the premise that states pursue many political projects but may not be in a position simultaneously to achieve all of them successfully. We are especially interested in the ability of states to provide legitimate order, facilitate effective economic development, and promote social inclusion. As important, we ask: Can these goals be successfully pursued simultaneously or are there inherent tradeoffs between these important goals? While our normative commitments lead us to hope that these goals can be achieved simultaneously, our scholarly commitment is to evaluate this question empirically and theoretically.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationStates in the Developing World
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages32
ISBN (Electronic)9781316665657
ISBN (Print)9781107158498
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


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