Catherine Boone, Political Topographies of the African State (2003), Chapters 1, 5

Book is missing, so working with reviews.
Boone is examining the interactions between a country\’s political core and its rural periphery, in effect explaining the geographic unevenness of rural Africa’s incorporation in modern states. She articulates an institutional choice theory (instead of focusing on ideology or colonial legacy) in order to explain institutional outcomes.  Her argument is that central rulers’ strategic choices are shaped profoundly and predictably by regional and local differences in rural social structure and agrarian property relations. The consequence is that the extent and nature of political and institutional decentralization vary widely even among regions in the same country.
Initial premise: the extraction of agricultural surplus is crucial to understanding state building in Africa. Spotlight must be on how internal regional political economies shape rulers’ efforts to tax farmers and govern the countryside.
Typology of institutional strategies:
– Local authority devolved to rural elites vs. Centralized in the hands of the state agents deployed from the centre
– state institutions are established at the village level vs. ‘suspended above’ localities.
Argument: The centre’s strategy in any particular region is highly sensitive to the internal configuration of rural interests, resources and bargaining power.
Where local elites exist already, they must be dealt with, either through power-sharing (devolving control of the institutions to the elites) or usurpation (going around the elites and placing control of the institutions in the hands of state agents from the centre.)
For Boone, power-sharing is most likely if elites already depend on the centre for their position in the region, while usurpation is used when local elites are theoretically threatening to the power at the centre.
Where there is less social hierarchy, rural elites are non-significant so there is little incentive to establish local institutions – they remain ‘suspended above’ the locality.
Of key interest here is the fact that Boone argues that state formation (and building) is essentially a resource driven activity, and that the path of least resistance in gathering those resources depends heavily on local structures of authority and influence.