Researching the politics of development



Control the capital: Cities and political dominance

Working paper 135

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Tom Goodfellow
David Jackman
As optimism about the ‘third wave’ of democratisation has waned in the face of continued and renewed authoritarianism across the world, analyses of authoritarian dominance remain focused primarily on the national scale. We are argue that cities, and especially capital cities, play crucial roles in the production of dominance and the politics of maintaining it, as well as being sites of popular resistance. However, the varying ways in which governing elites deploy their resources and strategies in the urban arena in pursuit of dominance remain underexplored. In this conceptual framing paper for a multi-country comparative study spanning Africa and Asia, we suggest that strategies for urban dominance can be analysed in accordance with two overlapping modalities: interventions that are generative by design (their primary intention is to create some new form of support); and those that are repressive by design (their primary aim is to destroy or inhibit some form of opposition). We then present a typology of strategies that cut across these spheres of intervention and include co-optation, legitimising discourses, legal manoeuvres, coercive distribution and violent coercion. This framework is designed to inform empirical analysis of strategies of urban dominance, how these change over time and how they are deployed in varying combinations, facilitating a deeper understanding of how struggles for control shape urban outcomes.