How does state structure affect state capacity? The long-standing debate over centralization versus decentralization overlooks the broader organizational complexity of states and state bureaucracies. To address this problem, this article proposes an alternative typology of state organizational forms: nodal versus diffuse. Nodal forms concentrate decision-making power in a limited set of key actors at intermediary levels of the state hierarchy. Diffuse forms distribute decision-making power across many overlapping lines of authority. Nodal forms contribute to state capacity by combining the coordination advantages of centralization with the accountability and autonomy of decentralization, whereas diffuse forms make these processes more challenging. Empirically, this article compares two paradigmatic cases—China’s and India’s railway bureaucracies—to show how their nodal and diffuse forms, respectively, shape their ability to complete railway projects. These findings suggest that the organizational structure of state bureaucracies is an important yet underexplored factor underlying state capacity.

You do not currently have access to this content.