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Decentralisation meets local complexity: conceptual entry points, field-level findings and insights gained


Geiser, U; Rist, S (2009). Decentralisation meets local complexity: conceptual entry points, field-level findings and insights gained. In: Geiser, U. Decentralisation Meets Local Complexity : Local Struggles, State Decentralisation and Access to Natural Resources in South Asia and Latin America. Bern: NCCR North-South, 15-55.

Abstract

This article summarises and discusses eight case studies from Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Pakistan, India and Nepal that focus on the everyday realities of decentralisation. It recalls the mainstream arguments favouring decentralisation as a basic human right (i.e. to be able to participate in decision-making) and in a more utilitarian sense (i.e. decentralisation for development). The eight case studies support aspects of the mainstream; however, they also present new insights. To position these insights, the article deconstructs mainstream decentralisation discourses as based on a functionalist ontology, often leading to rather managerial and mechanistic approaches. To contrast such a functionalist position, three critical social science perspectives are introduced: the neo-Marxist view of the hegemonic state (including the notion of subalterns), Scott’s simplifying state techniques, and Midgal’s state-in-society approach. A reading of the case studies in this context highlights that decentralisation programmes often follow standardised procedures that encounter social, political, economic and ecological local complexities. Dimensions of these complexities are: already
ongoing contestations among social groups; conflicting expectations upon, and interpretations of, the meaning of decentralisation; and strategic handling of decentralisation as a resource – highlighting the importance of agency. The article concludes with the proposition that decentralisation is not primarily a managerial challenge (i.e. to introduce improved governance
mechanisms), but is inherently political, influenced by interests and agency, and thus contingent. The challenge for researchers and practitioners is to support adequate social processes that allow decentralisation to give local
complexities more room, without fuelling local competition over the scarce resources offered by decentralisation.

Abstract

This article summarises and discusses eight case studies from Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Pakistan, India and Nepal that focus on the everyday realities of decentralisation. It recalls the mainstream arguments favouring decentralisation as a basic human right (i.e. to be able to participate in decision-making) and in a more utilitarian sense (i.e. decentralisation for development). The eight case studies support aspects of the mainstream; however, they also present new insights. To position these insights, the article deconstructs mainstream decentralisation discourses as based on a functionalist ontology, often leading to rather managerial and mechanistic approaches. To contrast such a functionalist position, three critical social science perspectives are introduced: the neo-Marxist view of the hegemonic state (including the notion of subalterns), Scott’s simplifying state techniques, and Midgal’s state-in-society approach. A reading of the case studies in this context highlights that decentralisation programmes often follow standardised procedures that encounter social, political, economic and ecological local complexities. Dimensions of these complexities are: already
ongoing contestations among social groups; conflicting expectations upon, and interpretations of, the meaning of decentralisation; and strategic handling of decentralisation as a resource – highlighting the importance of agency. The article concludes with the proposition that decentralisation is not primarily a managerial challenge (i.e. to introduce improved governance
mechanisms), but is inherently political, influenced by interests and agency, and thus contingent. The challenge for researchers and practitioners is to support adequate social processes that allow decentralisation to give local
complexities more room, without fuelling local competition over the scarce resources offered by decentralisation.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Book Section, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
Dewey Decimal Classification:910 Geography & travel
Language:English
Date:2009
Deposited On:28 Oct 2009 07:44
Last Modified:26 Jan 2017 08:45
Publisher:NCCR North-South
Series Name:Geographica Bernensia
Number:4
ISBN:978-3-905835-10-6
Additional Information:Perspectives of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) North-South
Official URL:http://www.north-south.unibe.ch/content.php/page/id/184
Related URLs:http://www.recherche-portal.ch/primo_library/libweb/action/search.do?fn=search&mode=Advanced&vid=ZAD&vl%28186672378UI0%29=isbn&vl%281UI0%29=contains&vl%28freeText0%29=978-3-905835-10-6 (Organisation)

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