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11/30/2017 - 55 Plus Lecture Series - Seeing Like a State: The Informational Foundations of State Power

Date:  November 30, 2017
Topic:  Seeing Like a State: The Informational Foundations of State Power
Speaker:  Melissa Lee, Assistant Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Woodrow Wilson School and Department of Politics, Princeton University
Melissa M. Lee is Assistant Professor of Politics and International Affairs at the Department of Politics and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.  Her research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of international relations and comparative politics, with a specialization in sovereignty, state capacity, statebuilding, and political development.  Much of her current research concerns sovereignty, broadly defined.  She is also deeply interested in understanding how international actors promote or undermine state capacity in developing countries.  Her work has been published or is forthcoming in the Journal of Politics, International Organization, World Development, and Governance.  Her dissertation received the American Political Science Association's 2015 Helen Dwight Reid (now Merze Tate) award for the best dissertation in the field of international relations, law, and politics.  At Princeton, she teaches courses on U.S. intervention after the Cold War, international responses to state fragility, and undergraduate research methods.  She received her Ph.D. in Political Science from Stanford University and her B.A. in Political Science from the University of California, San Diego.  Prior to joining the faculty at Princeton, she was a pre-doctoral fellow at Stanford University's Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law. 
Modern states are distinguished by the wide scope of the state's interference in the private economic and social affairs of the governed.  This interference, which is the essence of government, requires that the state possess detailed information about its population.  Moreover, this information must be rendered in a way understandable to government administrators.  This talk introduces the notion of legibility - the breadth and depth of the state's information about its population - and demonstrates how legibility provides the crucial informational foundation for the effective exercise of state power.  We will begin with the historical problem of illegible societies, and we will see how the state has invented a variety of innovations - last names, standard weights and measures, the property register and cadastral map, the 1040 tax form, and biometric identification cards - to render visible their populations in order to govern them more effectively.  I will introduce a new measure of legibility that is based on the accuracy of age data reported in national population censuses, and use that measure to demonstrate that legibility allows the state to exercise its enforcement and service provision functions. 

Event location:
Event start: 11/30/2017 10:00:00 AM