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Natalia Forrat (Ph.D. 2017)

  • DISSERTATION TITLE: The Infrastructure of Authoritarianism: State-Society Relationships, Public Sector Organizations, and Authoritarian Resilience in Putin's Russia

Area(s) of Interest

Political sociology, comparative-historical sociology, state capacity and state-society relationships, political regimes, political economy of authoritarianism, civil society, social policy, and post-communist countries


In her dissertation, Natalia Forrat examines how an authoritarian regime builds relationships with society in ways that help this regime survive. In contrast to the existing scholarship, which concentrates on redistribution allowing autocrats to buy the loyalty of the masses, she suggests an infrastructural mechanism of authoritarian resilience, which is alternative and complementary to redistribution. She draws researchers’ attention to organizations providing social public goods and to the fact that they strengthen the infrastructural state power because of their embeddedness in people’s everyday lives, population’s trust, and direct connection to the state apparatus. She argues that the two mechanisms of authoritarian resilience, the infrastructural and redistributional ones, stem from two distinct patterns of state-society relationships. The infrastructural mechanism dominates when people view the state as the embodiment of the public will, allow the state to mediate community ties, and cooperate with public sector organizations, which routinely manage grass roots politics. The redistributional mechanism prevails when people conceptually detach the state from the public will, resist the state’s attempts to intervene in community matters, and turn the state’s requests for cooperation into bargains for material resources.

To demonstrate the distinction between the infrastructural and redistributional mechanisms and the two corresponding patterns of state-society relationships, Natalia uses a quantitative subnational comparison and five case studies of Russian regions. The quantitative analysis shows that Putin’s regime influenced the result of the 2012 presidential election in Russia by using schoolteachers as agitators and as agents who committed electoral fraud. Going beyond teachers, a historical study of Kemerovo region demonstrates how the regional governor developed extensive networks of government-controlled community organizations which allowed his regime to stay strong without excessive redistribution or coercion. The comparison of this case to other regions explains why a similar political strategy would not work in the regions with a different pattern of state-society relationships.


(R&R) - Forrat, N. “Shock-Resistant Authoritarianism: Schoolteachers and Infrastructural State Capacity in Putin’s Russia.” Revise and Resubmit for a special issue in Comparative Politics.

2016 - Forrat, N. “The Political Economy of Russian Higher Education: Why Does Putin Support Research Universities?” Post-Soviet Affairs 32 (4): 299–337.

Selected Awards

2016 - * Semi-finalist for the Academy Scholars Program, Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies (top 35 out of 1193 applicants)

2016 - * Pre-doctoral fellowship ($30,000), Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, Freeman Spogli Institute, Stanford University

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