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

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof John Sidel


This course is available on the MSc in Comparative Politics, MSc in Conflict Studies, MSc in Development Studies and MSc in Global Politics. 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 1 group. The deadline for applications is 17:00 on Tuesday 29 September 2020. You will be informed of the outcome by 17:00 on Wednesday 30 September 2020.

Course content

Over the course of the past two decades, the inter-related processes of globalization, 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 mafias, 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.


This year, the lectures will all be recorded and available online, and seminars will be run through a combination of online and/or on-campus provision as circumstances permit and require. This course provides a combination of seminars and lectures totalling 23.5 hours in the Lent Term and 1 hour in the Summer Term. Insofar as the course is limited to online modes of teaching, supplementary activities and forms of interaction and communication will be provided in addition to the lectures and seminars.

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

Jacqueline Behrend and Laurence Whitehead (eds.), Illiberal Practices: Territorial Variance within Large Federal Democracies (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016); Judith Chubb, Patronage, Power, and Poverty in Southern Italy: A Tale of Two Cities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982); Edward L. Gibson, Boundary Control: Subnational Authoritarianism in Federal Democracies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013); Ben Hillman, Patronage and Power: Local State Networks and Party-State Resilience in Rural China (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2014); Kimberly Marten, Warlords: Strong-Arm Brokers in Weak States (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012); Dipali Mukhopadhyay, Warlords, Strongman Governors, and the State in Afghanistan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014); Kelly McMann, Economic Autonomy and Democracy: Hybrid Regimes in Russia and Kyrgyzstan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006); Gulnaz Sharafutdinova, Political Consequences of Crony Capitalism inside Russia (Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press, 2010); Jane C. Schneider and Peter T. Schneider, Reversible Destiny: Mafia, Antimafia, and the Struggle for Palermo (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003); Milan Vaishnav, When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017).


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

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2019/20: 30

Average class size 2019/20: 15

Controlled access 2019/20: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Problem solving
  • Communication