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Agustin Goenaga
Liu Scholar; Vanier Graduate Scholar; PhD Candidate, Political Science
Office: CK Choi 328

Research Interests: Comparative Political Development; Comparative Political Economy; Historical Sociology; Qualitative and Mixed Methods; Democratic Theory; 19th Century Social and Political Theory.

About: I am a doctoral candidate in Political Science at the University of British Columbia (UBC), a fellow of the Liu Institute for Global Issues, and a fellow of the Institute for European Studies. My research at UBC has been funded by a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship since June 2010. Broadly speaking, I am interested in two broad sets of issues: on the one hand, the origins and performance of political institutions, and, on the other, the incentives, norms, and belief systems that determine why individuals create different political organizations to resist and influence authorities.

       In my doctoral dissertation, “Without the King’s Head: The Systemic Origins of State Capacity”, I study the developmental trends of several indicators of state capacity for France and Mexico since the early 19th century. These indicators measure the capacity of the state to effectively implement policies, provide order and security, obtain fiscal revenue, build infrastructure, and deliver public services. Through a mixed-methods research design, I identify the moments of sharp divergence in the trajectory that each country followed, and test the causal claims of alternative explanations of political development and underdevelopment: bellicist accounts, institutionalist theories of predatory rule, natural resource curse arguments, and various theories of state-society relations.

       The main argument of the dissertation is that we can explain cross-national variations in the long-term development of state capacity by looking at transformations in the internal structure of civil society organizations and the changes in state-society relations that they brought with them. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I found that in the French and Mexican cases the concentration of power inhibited sustained growth in state capacity. Instead, the characteristically high levels of French state capacity were only possible after a series of transformations occurred within civil society organizations (e.g., parties, unions, associations) in the late 19th century. These organizational changes transformed state-society relations, facilitating the complex coordinating tasks that the state needed to perform in order to expand its institutional capacities. Conversely, in Mexico, the re-organization of society through a mass-mobilizing organization—the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and its predecessors—, in the absence of institutional constraints to executive power, created the conditions for the long-term durability of the regime but at the same time hindered growth in other areas of state capacity. In sum, the theoretical argument that I put forward is that state capacity is best understood as an emergent property of certain interactions between state and societal actors. State capacity is thus a collective good that results from a constellation of intra- and inter-organizational institutions that limit the privatization of political authority.

The research process entailed two stages. First, I supervised a team of 14 research assistants in the creation of an original dataset, using official statistical yearbooks, with a dozen fine-grained indicators of public order, taxation, communications and transport infrastructure, life expectancy, and primary education. Most of these indicators are disaggregated at the sub-national level and cover the entire period under study for both countries.

       Second, I spent 18 months doing fieldwork in France and Mexico between 2011 and 2013. This involved very detailed archival research and expert interviews. As a result, I created a repository of over 9,000 photographs of documents illustrating the evolution of state-society relations in both countries between the 1870s and the 1940s. I then evaluated the explanatory leverage of alternative theories of the long-term development of state capacity through a thick qualitative analysis of primary and secondary sources. I crafted a research design around process-tracing tests and a method of sequence elaboration to assess the causal relevance of three hypothesized factors: the concentration of power and top-down bureaucratization of the state apparatus, the creation of institutional constraints on the national executive, and the transformation of civil society organizations. I then evaluated the causal relevance of these factors by looking at key state-building efforts: the constitutional processes in France in 1875 and Mexico in 1917; the creation of the income tax in 1914 and 1921, respectively; and the expansion of the presence of the state into rural areas through high-modernist projects of land reform, infrastructural development, and education policy.

I teach courses on comparative politics, especially on the sociology of revolutions, Latin American politics, political development and the state in comparative perspective.

Additionally, I have a parallel career in creative writing. My first novel, La frase negra, was published in Mexico, in 2007. Some of my short fiction has been included in several anthologies—e.g., Trazos en el Espejo. Quince autorretratos fugaces and Un nuevo modo. Antología de narrativa mexicana actual—and is frequently mentioned as part of the new generation of Mexican narrative. I am currently working on a second novel. You can find some of my short stories published in Luvina: “Parece una tontería”, “Budapest

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