Anthony DeMattee Receives the 2021 Leonard D. White Award

The Leonard D. White Award is presented annually by the American Political Science Association (APSA) to honor the best doctoral dissertation in the field of public administration. 

Anthony DeMattee is a first-generation college graduate, a rescue dog dad, and lifelong Denver Broncos fan. He is currently National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellow sponsored by both the NSF Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences and the Law & Science Program. His research primarily focuses on the politics of state-civil society interactions in developing countries, with a regional focus on East Africa and the Caribbean (Kenya and Haiti primarily). His dissertation, book project, and current research studies the political origins, judicial politics, and socioeconomic consequences of civil society laws. He is completing the final year of his postdoc while affiliated with the Department of Political Science at Emory University.  


Citation from the Award Committee: 

Anthony James DeMattee’s “Domesticating Civil Society: How and Why Governments Use Laws to Regulate CSOs” is a highly deserving recipient of the 2021 Leonard D. White Dissertation Award for Best Dissertation in Public Administration in the preceding two years.  DeMattee’s research asks a series of both critical and timely questions for research at the nexus of human rights and administrative design and behavior: How and Why governments undermine civil society organizations whose purpose is to protect the civil liberties of citizens as both individuals and organized groups?  This topic is critical not only for the analysis of authoritarian regimes but takes on special importance in democracies with the dual emergence of both populism and authoritarianism during the past few decades. This study addresses this research puzzle by focusing on both the design and implementation of government policies intended to shape the parameters of civil society organizations’ activities.    

This dissertation is broken into three sub-questions: How do legal provisions reflected in civil society organizations (CSOs) arise? Under what conditions are these legal provisions adopted by CSOs? And finally, how do the enforcement of these legal provisions vary based on de facto versus de jure rules? DeMattee’s theory asserts that weak (i.e., unstable) governments view CSOs as adversaries, and hence use legal and enforcement provisions to maintain political control over CSOs. Conversely, robust (i.e., stable) governments will seek to use legislative provisions and enforcement mechanisms to confer the expansion of legitimacy to CSOs, and thus signal to the broader international community that they support human rights activities by these non-governmental organizations.  

Marshaling an impressive array of datasets and multiple methods of inquiry (quantitative analysis of data, field archival research, and in-depth nation case study) covering 285 laws enacted between 1872 and 2019 covering 17 African nations, DeMattee offers compelling evidence that robust governments with a firm grip on power use legal provisions to manipulate CSOs to expand legitimacy to their citizens and signal human rights efforts to the broader international community. Governments whose power is weak, and thereby threatened by CSOs, will tailor both laws and enforcement strategies to restrict CSOs scope of activities, thus tightening political control over these non-governmental organizations.   

In short, DeMattee makes an original and underappreciated point from his study: Enacting or not enacting a particular CSO law does not automatically translate into a civil society’s environment being supported or thwarted by governments. Rather, understanding the substantive content of legal provisions in CSOs and their resulting enforcement mechanisms is critical for ascertaining whether CSOs benefit or are adversely affected by such government policy changes. This is a project that will be a must-read for students of developmental governance and human rights who seek a deeper institutional-based understanding of the relationships between the state and non-government organizations. 


APSA thanks the University of Chicago for its support of the award and the committee members for their service: George A. Krause (Chair), University of Georgia; Dr. Randall Scott Davis, Southern Illinois University; and Dr. Alisa Moldavanova, Wayne State University.