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The Persistence of State Strength and Weakness in Latin America

Thursday, December 1, 2011
12:00 AM
Room 2609, School of Social Work Building

A lecture by Hillel David Soifer, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Temple University

Scholars have identified many factors underlying the emergence of strong and weak states in Latin America. But despite the fact that most of these explanations center on historical moments long in the past, we have few explanations for why state strength and weakness persist over time. This talk will address this gap in our theories of state development by proposing two mechanisms underlying the persistence of state strength and weakness. By tracing state-society relations over time in four Latin American countries (Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru), one can find that social actors’ strategies of problem-solving and expectations of state intervention are shaped by pre-existing state effectiveness. The contentious choices of societal actors, in turn, reinforce pre-existing patterns of state strength and weakness, leading them to persist over time. Evidence from urban housing crises and responses to natural disasters in four Latin American countries is used to illustrate these mechanisms of reproduction.

Hillel David Soifer is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Temple University. He received a PhD from Harvard University in 2006, and taught at Bates College and Princeton University before coming to Temple. His research centers on state formation, political instability, and historical causation in Latin America, and has been published in Latin American Research Review, Studies in Comparative International Development, and Comparative Political Studies (forthcoming). He is finishing a book on state strength and weakness in four Latin American countries, and starting a new project on military intervention and political instability in the aftermath of independence in Latin America.