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Relational State Building in Areas of Limited Statehood: Experimental Evidence on the Attitudes of the Police

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 January 2020

Cornell University
*Sabrina Karim, Assistant Professor, Cornell University,


Under what conditions does state expansion into limited statehood areas improve perceptions of state authority? Although previous work emphasizes identity or institutional sources of state legitimacy, I argue that relationships between state agents and citizens drive positive attitude formation, because these relationships provide information and facilitate social bonds. Moreover, when state agents and citizens share demographic characteristics, perceptional effects may improve. Finally, citizens finding procedural interactions between state agents and citizens unfair may adopt negative views about the state. I test these three propositions by randomizing household visits by male or female police officers in rural Liberia. These visits facilitated relationship building, leading to improved perceptions of police; shared demographic characteristics between police and citizens did not strengthen this effect. Perceptions of unfairness in the randomization led to negative opinions about police. The results imply that relationship building between state agents and citizens is an important part of state building.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2020 

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This project was generously funded by grants from Emory University, the Folke Bernadotte Academy 1325 Working Group, and a National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant. Various forms of this paper were presented at EGAP 19: Sciences Po, Paris, March 2017; the Christopher H. Browne Center for International Politics Conference for Young Scholars in Philadelphia, PA, May 19, 2017; the Folke Bernadatte Academy Security Sector Reform Working Groups in 2016 and 2017; the Cornell University Comparative Politics workshop; and workshops at the following departments Texas A&M, Georgetown University, George Washington University, University of Chicago, the University of Virginia, and Emory University. Additionally, the author would like to thank the IR Experiments Conference participants in Princeton (2013), in particular Daniel Nielson and Betsy Paluck. The research would not have been possible without advice from David Lake, Elisabeth King, Bernd Beber, Alex Scacco, Rob Blair, Ben Morse, Yonatan Lupu, Dara Cohen, Louise Olsson, Ismene Gizelis, Ben Oppenheim, Thomas Zeitzoff, Dan Reiter, Tom Pepinsky, and Kyle Beardsley. The author would also like to thank three anonymous reviewers who greatly improved this paper. Finally, the author would like to thank the Center for Action, Research, and Training, particularly Kou M. G. Johnson, Finah Bottomley, George Thomas, Wonyen Beyean, Isaac Wisseh, Dyrexze Juwele, and Catherine Tarplah as well as the Liberian National Police, specifically William Mulbah, Abe Kromah, Emmanuel Doe, Rudolph Sarvice, Josephine Sackor, and Delphine Nimely. Replication files are available at the American Political Science Review Dataverse:



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