"The Laboratories of What? State Governments, Democracy, and the Politics of Numbers"

February 11

1:00pm - 2:00pm

Sturm Hall, Room 286, Humanities Institute Room

In recent years, political scientists have turned their attention to the issue of democratic backsliding, or the erosion of institutions and norms in consolidated democracies. Yet this discussion has tended to focus on the national level, ignoring critical developments in the fifty states. This lecture shows why efforts to democratize state governments will depend critically on tools for monitoring, mapping, and ranking state governments. Beginning in the early twentieth century, political activists, government officials, and political scientists alike have embarked on projects of classifying and quantifying the states. Yet these measures often had the effect of fragmenting knowledge about democracy. Political activists used measurement strategically, to spur policy diffusion across states. Government officials focused on measuring state compliance with federal laws. Political scientists turned their attention to the fiscal and administrative capacities of state government. Strengthening state governments depends on a greater level of collaboration between these three sets of actors to build an infrastructure for monitoring and remedying democratic deficits.