The American state project investigates the origin, development and comparative distinctiveness of the US national state. The project involves data collection of the revenues, outlays and regulatory roles of the federal government; case study analysis of key federal initiatives in building the US state notably in respect to the pursuit of race equity; and historical institutionalist accounts of programme development. Theoretically the project advances arguments in American political development, comparative historical institutionalism and theories of the state.
The theoretical aim of the project is to place American state development into a comparative framework about how modern states develop, acquire administrative and institutional resources, delivery policy and maintain legitimacy. In the US case this task requires two particular emphases: first, attention to the comparative institutional distinctness of the US centre – particularly the separation of powers nationally and the vertical divisions arising from federalism – and moving beyond the tired strong versus weak debates; this can be achieved by acknowledging the non-Weberian character of US bureaucratic systems and their location in a fragmented polity; and second, detailing the distinct dimensions of federal activity constitutive of the US state and some of their legacies – notably the importance of understanding the US state as initially a defender and advocate of segregation and subsequently an agent in its dismantling.
The empirical aim of the project is to apply the new theoretical framework about the character of the American state in two ways: first to develop a distinct political economy profile and second to examine case studies in various policy areas.