The strength of a weak agency: Enforcement of Title VII of the 1964 civil rights act and the expansion of state capacity, 1965-1971

Nicholas Pedriana, Robin Stryker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

81 Scopus citations

Abstract

This article analyzes the anomalous case of early Title VII enforcement to challenge the standard political-institutional (PI) account of state capacity. Title VII prohibited employment discrimination, but the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was granted scant enforcement resources. Yet the early EEOC aggressively enforced and developed Title VII. To solve the anomaly, the authors integrate insights from the literatures on social movements and the sociology of law. In the absence of conventional administrative resources, apparently weak state agencies can expand their capacity through the legal strategy of broad statutory construction. This strategy is more likely with the presence of social movement pressure from below. The authors argue that state capacity is a "moving target," with state and societal actors building on legal as well as administrative resources to construct and transform capacity. By reconceptualizing state capacity, the authors contribute to nuanced explanations of state policy that are both "political" and "institutional" and that highlight the centrality of legal interpretation and judicial review to political sociology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)709-760
Number of pages52
JournalAmerican Journal of Sociology
Volume110
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

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