Philip Rocco – 2016 William Anderson Award Recipient

The William Anderson prize is awarded annually for the best dissertation in the general field of federalism or intergovernmental relations, state and local politics.


The William Anderson Award Committee for the best doctoral dissertation in the field of state and local government, federalism, or intergovernmental relations is pleased to announce a winner for 2016: Reorganizing the Activist State: Conservatives, Commissions, and the Politics of Federalism, 1947-1996.” Reorganizing the Activist State stands out in that it addresses a big and contentious topic, develops an original theoretical explanation for why conservatives could advance limited government in intergovernmental relations, and examines the veracity of this and alternative explanations through a rigorous and intelligent use of plentiful archival evidence.

The dissertation examines the origins of conservative efforts to reform the New Deal era “activist state.” It argues that institutional creativity, or more precisely, the creation and manipulation of institutions geared to fact collection and deliberation rather than binding authority — regenerative institutions — was decisive in weakening the activist state. These institutions helped reframe conservative objections from ideological to administrative criticism, broaden the coalition for change to a bipartisan clientele of local and state officials, and develop alternative limited government policy. The author conducts intensive process tracing over four periods of conservative mobilization between 1947 and 1996 to evaluate the varying effect of regenerative institutions, such as intergovernmental commissions, task forces, and study groups, on federal-state policy making.

The study provides a corrective on extant work on American Political Development, which emphasizes the role of drift, conversion, and layering of existing authoritative institutions in gradual policy change. In contrast, this dissertation argues that the drivers of change can be external and weak: even in an environment saturated with powerful institutions, new institutions can provide an operating base for status quo challengers to the extent that they can store information, brokerage, expertise that can be mobilized to time an attack on prevailing policy.

In short, this work provides a novel and persuasive explanation of where the conservative movement came from and how it could change federal-state relations in the United States. A truly excellent piece of scholarly research!

Special thanks to our committee Liesbet Hooghe (Chair), University of North Carolina / University of Amsterdam; Yoshiko Herrera, University of Wisconsin; Shanna Rose, Claremont McKenna College