My research agenda centers on understanding how states shape society. My dissertation, which I am preparing as a book manuscript, addresses a fundamental question that has been neglected by existing debates on civil society: Why does civil society come to support liberal, democratic outcomes in some cases, and illiberal, authoritarian outcomes in others? This research is grounded in a comparative-historical analysis of four regions of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth that were governed by three different imperial powers between 1795 and 1918. Thus, these regions provide a quasi-experiment to analyze how variation in imperial rule, economic development and ethnic relations influenced the character of civil society in lands of the former Commonwealth. Using original archival data, I show that while policies of regional integration and economic transformations shaped the potential paths of civil society’s development, ultimately elite conflicts determined its character in each case.