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Extending the State: Administrative Decentralization and Democratic Governance Around the World


Around the world bureaucratic forms of state coordination are being displaced by new techniques of participatory governance; changes that blur the boundaries between government, markets, and civil society. These alterations to the state are routinely attributed to three global trends: Market liberalization, democratization, and state decentralization. However, the links between these various types of state liberalization and the turn toward participatory governance remain obscure. In part, this is because decentralization involves a complex set of changes that long thwarted efforts to produce sound cross-national measures. In this dissertation I document and analyze the first worldwide dataset of administrative decentralization policies in 152 countries from 1970 – 2015. Building on this original dataset, this project addresses three main questions: First, how do we conceptualize decentralization relative to other types of state liberalization? While traditional accounts view decentralization as a process of state contraction, I conceptualize this phenomenon as a type of democratic state-building: Decentralization formally extends trusteeship over the state’s role in national development to entities in civil society and markets. Second, what drives countries around the world to adopt these policies? Drawing on a sample of 123 countries from 1970 – 2014, I use event history analysis to assess leading theories of policy diffusion. I develop an account that bridges cultural and coercive explanations for the global spread of ideas. To do so, I introduce the concept of syncretic diffusion: A form of policy transmission in which external resource flows and technocratic discourses play a co-constitutive role in the diffusion process. Third and finally, what effect do decentralization policies have on democratic governance? Using panel models with fixed effects, I examine hypotheses that stem from political modernization and the democratic deepening schools. I make two contributions. First, I find that when countries transform their local governments into fully democratic entities through political decentralization, this temporarily boosts participatory democracy. Second, I find that the positive, albeit temporary effects of democratic decentralization are strengthened when central government administrators are more involved at the local level. What explains this finding? I argue that in the early years of democratic decentralization locally appointed bureaucrats leverage their technocratic expertise to both socialize and discipline new local government actors. I posit that appointed officials train local government personnel to accomplish the ordinary feats of public administration – such as routine bookkeeping. While this restricts the autonomy of locally elected governments, it also boosts their capacity to provide transparent, accountable, and effective governance.

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