Political Inequality and State Formation

In my doctoral research at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and as a post-doctoral fellow associated with the project “State-Making and the Origins of Global Order in the Long 19th-Century” (STANCE) at Lund University (LU), I have studied the effects of various kinds of political inequality on different aspects of state capacity. This work has relied on both quantitative and qualitative methods of causal inference, with a special focus on cross- and intra-regional comparisons between Latin America and Western Europe.

I am currently working on a book manuscript titled Communication and Political Development: The Social Origins of State Autonomy and State Capacity. This manuscript is based on my PhD dissertation, which won the “Outstanding Dissertation Prize” from the Canadian Association of Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CALACS).

Through a comparative historical analysis of Argentina, Mexico, France and Sweden, the book argues that levels of political inequality in the 19th-Century determined the extent to which the popular classes could form political organizations around communicative practices of collective preference formation and insulated from the influence of money and coercion. Lower levels of political inequality thus fostered the emergence of programmatic popular parties and interest groups, which became bulwarks of state autonomy and enabled the state to better address collective problems. In those cases (France, Sweden), the state was able to direct the economic transformation of the country from the turn of the 20th-Century to the 1970s, largely thanks to programmatic popular parties that checked rent-seeking and extended the time horizon of state-society relations. Conversely, where opportunities for coordination through communication were scarce, the popular classes were politically incorporated through clientelistic organizations that eroded state autonomy and hampered the capacity of the state to steer the economy, as was the case in Argentina and Mexico. In this way, the book seeks to incorporate insights from normative theories of deliberative democracy into empirical research on political development.

Additionally, I have done work on the impact of democratic reforms on the evolution of information capacity (Brambor et al. forthcoming) and on the effects of war and geopolitical competition on fiscal capacity (Goenaga and von Hagen-Jamar 2016, 2018; Goenaga, Sabaté and Teorell 2018).


Brambor, Thomas, Agustín Goenaga, Johannes Lindvall, and Jan Teorell. “The Lay of the Land: Information Capacity and the Modern State”, Comparative Political Studies, accepted.

Goenaga, Agustín and Alexander von Hagen-Jamar. “When Does War Make States? War, Rivalries and Fiscal Extraction in the 19th and 20th Centuries” in Bartelson, Jens, Martin Hall and Jan Teorell (eds.), De-Centering State-Making: Historical and Geographical Perspectives, London: Edward Elgar Press, 2018.

Working papers:

  • “The Social Origins of State Autonomy: Communication, Programmatic Parties, and State-Led Economic Transformation”, previous version available from the STANCE Working Paper Series
  • “Do Military Rivalries Foster State-Building? Geopolitical Competition, State-Society Relations and Taxation (1870-2000)” with Alexander von Hagen-Jamar, previous version available from the STANCE Working Paper Series
  • “The State Does Not Live by Warfare Alone: State Capacity and Armed Conflict in the Long Nineteenth Century in Europe and the Americas” with Oriol Sabaté Domingo and Jan Teorell, previous version available from the STANCE Working Paper Series