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Cities and Politics in the Developing World


The last 20 years have witnessed an impressive outpouring of comparative politics research examining urban politics in the developing world. This research advances our understanding of phenomena such as clientelism, law and order, and local public goods provision. Scholarship could be strengthened, however, through more careful attention to how the urban setting of this research affects the politics examined. This article proposes two distinct ways in which urban politics can be conceptualized: politics taking place in urban agglomerations, characterized by large, diverse populations settled at high densities; or politics taking place within the boundaries of city jurisdictions, possessing legal powers and responsibilities distinct from those at other tiers of government or in rural areas. Adopting either of these conceptualizations illuminates new avenues for empirical work, theoretical innovation, and improved measurement. This article also shows that recent scholarship has neglected important, and fundamentally political, topics such as urban political economy, land markets, and environmental harms. Engaging with these areas would allow political scientists to revisit classic questions regarding the institutional influences on economic growth, the politics of redistribution, and the determinants of collective action.

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