GV4D3      Half Unit
Local Power in an Era of Globalization, Democratization, and Decentralization

This information is for the 2015/16 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof John Sidel CON4.02


This course is available on the MSc in Comparative Politics, MSc in Conflict Studies, MSc in Development Studies, MSc in Global Politics and MSc in Global Politics (Global Civil Society). This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

This course has limited availability (is capped), and requires that students (regardless of Department or MSc programme) obtain permission from the teacher responsible.  It is capped at 2 groups. The deadline for receipt of applications is Wednesday, 30 September 2015.

Course content

Over the course of the past two decades, the inter-related processes of marketization, democratization, and decentralization are said to have generated new social forces and political freedoms in localities around the world. Market reforms and village elections in China, the end of Communist Party rule in Russia and Eastern Europe, and trends of (re)democratization in Asia, Africa, and Latin America have all offered new opportunities for local people to effect change in local politics around the world. Yet academic, journalistic, and policy accounts have highlighted the rise and resilience of 'local despotisms' – "authoritarian enclaves," "bosses", "caciques", "chiefs", "clans", "local strongmen", "mafias", "warlords" – in the midst of this reworking of market, electoral, and administrative circuitries. This course focuses on this phenomenon of what scholars have come to call 'subnational authoritarianism', competing explanations for its emergence and entrenchment, the diversity of its manifestations, and various challenges mounted against its perpetuation. The goals of the course are twofold. First, the course offers a critical examination of competing accounts of and explanations for the phenomenon of 'subnational authoritarianism' in the developing world. Second, the course helps students think more carefully, critically, and creatively about local politics more broadly, and to do so with an eye towards the comparative analysis of local power structures rooted in local economies and societies. The course begins with an examination of an emerging new political-science literature on 'subnational authoritarianism' and a more established body of scholarship on clientelism and machine politics. The course then turns to case studies in diverse settings, ranging from southern Italy to China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Russia, and extending to cases of 'warlordism' in contexts such as contemporary Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia. The readings allow students to examine and evaluate competing explanations for the rise and entrenchment of local bosses, chiefs, clans, and mafia, diverging descriptions of their modes of domination, and alternative accounts of their disappearance, evolution, or transformation in the face of economic, social, and political change. Successive weeks also explore the links between constellations in local politics on the one hand, and patterns of economic development, ethnic conflict, and religious mobilization on the other. The final weeks of the course shift attention to the efforts to challenge entrenched local power structures and to create "countervailing power" through popular mobilization, political participation, and social empowerment in localities in diverse settings across the world.


10 hours of lectures and 13 hours and 30 minutes of seminars in the LT. 1 hour of lectures in the ST.

There will be a reading week in week 6 of the LT for complementary structured learning activities.

Formative coursework

One non-assessed 1,000 word essay.

Indicative reading

Javier Auyero, Poor People's Politics: Peronist Survival Networks and the Legacy of Evita (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000); Ward Berenschot, Riot Politics: Hindu-Muslim Violence and the Indian State (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011); Judith Chubb, Patronage, Power, and Poverty in Southern Italy: A Tale of Two Cities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982); Vladimir Gel’man and Cameron Ross (eds.), The Politics of Sub-National Authoritarianism in Russia (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2010); Edward L. Gibson, Boundary Control: Subnational Authoritarianism in Federal Democracies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013); Kimberly Marten, Warlords: Strong-Arm Brokers in Weak States (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012); Robert Waite Mickey, Paths Out of Dixie: The Democratization of Authoritarian Enclaves in America’s Deep South (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013); Gulnaz Sharafutdinova, Political Consequences of Crony Capitalism inside Russia (Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press, 2010); John T. Sidel, Capital, Coercion, and Crime: Bossism in the Philippines (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999); Jane C. Schneider and Peter T. Schneider, Reversible Destiny: Mafia, Antimafia, and the Struggle for Palermo (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).


Exam (50%, duration: 2 hours) in the main exam period.
Essay (50%, 3000 words).

Student performance results

(2011/12 - 2013/14 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 15
Merit 77.9
Pass 6.2
Fail 0.9

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2014/15: 27

Average class size 2014/15: 14

Controlled access 2014/15: Yes

Lecture capture used 2014/15: Yes (LT)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Problem solving
  • Communication