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How local is urban governance in fragile states? Theory and practice of capital city politics in Sierra Leone and Afghanistan.

Esser, Daniel Eric (2008) How local is urban governance in fragile states? Theory and practice of capital city politics in Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Historically capital cities in less developed countries such as Sierra Leone and Afghanistan have served as sites of deliberate attempts to bring about change in both local and national political systems. Ranging from modernist agendas to contemporary donor-driven 'reconstruction' efforts, strategies to build effective state structures, including local governance institutions, have been at the core of such politics. Drawing on a multidisciplinary methodology that combines historical analysis with micro- and meso-level field research, the thesis explores the dynamics of agency and structure in an investigation of the function of capital cities as political arenas. It reviews key strands of urban political theory for their applicability to developing country contexts and situations of state fragility. The thesis finds existing approaches to be insufficiently suited to explaining political processes operating in and on war-affected capital cities. Current theoretical treatments present cities as distinct or contained political spaces, which in these contexts they are not. They also fail to account for radical changes in the polities in which they are embedded and underestimate the degree of coercion exercised towards local stakeholders by supra-local actors, highlighting the need for a revised interpretative framework. The study juxtaposes policies and programmes targeted at urban and national level institutional change with urban political trajectories in war-affected Freetown and Kabul. The thesis examines how external resources and lines of control create political axes that intersect and transcend urban spaces. The research finds that these axes work to the detriment of local political deliberation and explains why institutional reforms aimed at strengthening local political agency have given rise to the opposite outcome. The research thus illustrates the importance of political economy factors related to international intervention and shows how these have served to influence the nature of capital city politics in least developed countries. Empirically the study establishes why the two capital cities function as linchpins of international assistance yet fail to benefit from local political empowerment and equitable urban recovery. It is concluded that local politics in these two cities are overdetermined by national and international interests and agendas. Theoretically the thesis offers the concept of 'tri-axial urban governance,' which combines historically informed political economy analysis with an explicitly spatial framework for analysing politics in and on war- affected cities. This reconfigured conceptual scaffolding exposes power relations operative in city politics in fragile states and explains their impact on dynamics of structure and agency.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Sociology, Social Structure and Development, Political Science, General
Sets: Collections > ProQuest Etheses

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