The scholarship of Sean Farhang—just tenured at the Goldman School of Public Policy and the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley—represents boundary-crossing work of the kind the SSRC long has sought to advance. He has stood out as a person who combines precision with range ever since he first arrived at Columbia University as a graduate student with NYU degrees in philosophy and law and experience as a labor lawyer.
Professor Farhang’s excellent dissertation, whose committee I was pleased to chair, formed the basis for his 2010 Princeton University Press book, The Litigation State: Public Regulation and Private Lawsuits in the United States. This novel contribution to our understanding of state strength corrects too-simple approaches that designate the United States as possessing a comparatively weak national state. Focusing on job discrimination, the volume asks why Congress sometimes chooses to create private enforcement mechanisms that induce litigants to act. Probing the character and effects of this alternative strategy, one distinct from bureaucracy-centered administrative enforcement regimes, The Litigation State powerfully demonstrates why we should understand the many lawsuits it encourages as a form of active governmental intervention.
The book recently won the coveted Gladys M. Kammerer Award of the American Political Science Association for the best annual book published in the field of US national policy. The citation concluded this way:
The Litigation State represents the best of public policy analysis and political science by combining a rigorous theoretical framework with a fascinating blend of investigative tools, including empirical analysis grounded largely in rational choice institutionalism and historical qualitative analysis. This innovative work informs numerous areas of inquiry in political science, including studies of Congress, separation of powers, civil rights, public policy, the regulatory process, and American political development.
Ira Katznelson is president of the SSRC and Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History at Columbia University.