The Territorial Dynamics of Colonial State-Building

2014 - 2016
Gerda Henkel Foundation

Assistant Prof. Dr. Erik Wibbels, Duke University; USA

Assistant Prof. Dr. Jacob Shapiro, Princeton University, USA

Prof. Dr. Mansoob Murshed, Erasmus University of Rotterdam, Netherlands

Prof. Dr. Nicholas van de Walle, Cornell University, USA

Dr. Philip Keefer, Development Research Group of the World Bank, USA

Dr. Stefan Lindemann, KfW Development Bank, Germany



Research Questions

  • What factors influence the spatio-temporal patterns of colonial state-building?
  • How do geo-strategic considerations, the potential for resource extraction and instances of violent opposition influence colonial state-building?

Contribution to International Research
Penetrating territory, establishing presence and imposing order is part and parcel of state building. The less states are able to reach throughout their territory, the less will they be able to defend their monopoly over the legitimate use of force, to extract resources from the population or establish state-society relations. The state’s ability to penetrate society and implement its decisions across its territory is an essential dimension of the “power of the state”. However, in many cases states do not effectively project their authority across all areas within their national borders. We are interested in the determinants of sub-national spatial variations in state penetration: why is the state able or willing to penetrate some sub-national regions, while others defy state presence?

The project performs statistical geo-spatial analyses of historical state-building processes to advance current debates on state-building in the context of violent conflict and low economic development. It focuses on connections between the spatial unevenness of the state and the temporal patterns of its extension. The project develops and analyses original hypotheses focusing on the dynamics of three main explanatory variables: accessibility, extraction and acceptance. Cooperation of the project with development agencies ensures knowledge transfer into practical debates on state-building in fragile and conflict affected states.

Research Design and Methods
The former colonies of German East and Southwest Africa serve as empirical cases. The wealth of statistical data on various dimensions of state presence and socio-economic characteristics of both colonies represent a unique opportunity for an unparalleled spatio-temporal analysis of state-building. The empirical part of the project will primarily be based on sub-national statistical/geo-spatial analyses. They will be performed in two former German colonies separately. No direct cross-country comparisons will be made due to country-specific data-sources and operationalisation of variables. However, findings from within-country analyses will be compared across countries.

Data analysis relies on standard multivariate regression models, as well as non-parametric matching approaches. In each type of analysis it it is essential to take into account problems of spatio-temporal dependence to model the diffusion of state-building within each colony. To further strengthen causal inferences made from the observational data, we plan to use natural experiments that exploit exogenous variation in core independent variables. For example, we will leverage information from surveying reports, ranging from initial exploration trips prior to colonisation, to later commercial prospecting ventures, to identify specific events of valuable resource discovery. This allows us to compare strategies of state-building before and after news of successful prospecting has reached the colonial administration.

Preliminary Results
Investigations into interactions between colonial authority and the local population have been at the centre of the first project phase. In our preliminary analysis, we have found consistent empirical evidence that, while static structural factors highlighted in much of the previous literature on territorial patterns of state-building did indeed play a role in German East Africa, reactions to violent opposition – as well as the strategic objective of maximizing coverage of the territory – were substantially more influential in shaping the spatio-temporal patterns of state expansion. Opportunities for extraction, prior political centralization of ethnic groups, population density, or the local disease environment may also have factored into state penetration, albeit to a much lesser degree than is often emphasized in more economic explanations of state-building processes. The ongoing second project phase will be used to further scrutinize these findings in the context of former German-Southwest Africa.