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Controlling the capital city: Understanding strategies for the pursuit of urban dominance

May 12, 2021 @ 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm


As optimism about the ‘third wave’ of democratisation has waned in the face of renewed authoritarianism around the world, analyses of authoritarian dominance remain focused primarily on the national scale. Tom and David argue however 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. Capital cities are important because they symbolize political sovereignty, are home to political elites, drive economic growth, and often house a large percentage of the urban population. However, the varying ways in which governing elites deploy their resources and strategies in the urban arena in pursuit of dominance remain underexplored.  Striving for urban dominance can produce novel policy initiatives and major investments in infrastructure, job creation and service provision – but also a ramping up of repression, surveillance, and intensifying violence against political opposition.

In their conceptual framing for a multi-country comparative study spanning Africa and Asia, they 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). They also present a typology of strategies for dominance that cut across these spheres of intervention, including co-optation, legitimising discourses, legal manoeuvres, coercive distribution and violent coercion. Drawing on their six case study cities of Addis Ababa, Colombo, Dhaka, Harare, Kampala and Lusaka, this semianr highlights some of their project’s cross-cutting comparative findings with respect to efforts by dominant coalitions to control the capital, and why these vary by context.


May 12, 2021
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm


University of York Public lectures
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