Networks, Collective Action, and State Formation

23 Pages Posted: 23 Dec 2010

See all articles by Drew Conway

Drew Conway

New York University (NYU) - Department of Politics

Date Written: December 15, 2010


The study of state formation often focuses on building state capacity. The formation and subsequent bolstering of state capacity, however, are distinctly different activities. While the study of state capacity building has provided considerable insight into the role of formal institutions in maintaining stable governance, the implicit assumption in this work is the existence of a state upon which to build capacity. The collective decision to formalize institutions into a state - a necessary prior condition for building state capacity - is rarely addressed. In the following paper the role of informal institutions; specifically, social networks as informal institutions, in the process of state germination is explored. Using Afghanistan as a framework for the discussion, the research presented below attempts to illustrate the importance of the initial structural conditions of these networks, and the actors therein, in this process. The paper begins with a brief description of the role of informal institution and social networks in Afghanistan. Next, a provision point public goods game is presented as a basic model of the collective action problem inherent in state formation. Then, a network variant of this game is presented, which is implemented as a computational model. In the final sections the results of simulations from the computational model are presented, with a discussion and conclusions.

Keywords: social networks, computational modeling, collective action, state building

JEL Classification: C63, D74

Suggested Citation

Conway, Andrew, Networks, Collective Action, and State Formation (December 15, 2010). Available at SSRN: or

Andrew Conway (Contact Author)

New York University (NYU) - Department of Politics ( email )

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