Taking Tilly south: durable inequalities, democratic contestation, and citizenship in the Southern Metropolis

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Citation: Patrick Heller, Peter Evans (2010) Taking Tilly south: durable inequalities, democratic contestation, and citizenship in the Southern Metropolis. Theory and Society (RSS)
DOI (original publisher): 10.1007/s11186-010-9115-3
Semantic Scholar (metadata): 10.1007/s11186-010-9115-3
Sci-Hub (fulltext): 10.1007/s11186-010-9115-3
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): Taking Tilly south: durable inequalities, democratic contestation, and citizenship in the Southern Metropolis
Tagged: sociology, politics "Sociology, politics" is not in the list (Anthropology, Arts and Literarure, Astronomy, Biology, Business, Chemistry, Clinical Research, Computer Science, Economics, Education, ...) of allowed values for the "Subject" property. (RSS) globalization (RSS), sociology (RSS), social theory (RSS), politics (RSS), inequality (RSS)


In a synoptic comparative analysis of state-city-society relations in India, South Africa and Brazil, Heller and Evans assess the applicability of Charles Tilly's theories of the relational contestation, and citizenship to democratic politics in the Global South. Building on Tilly's (1998) theoretical work on {Durable Inequalities}, the authors contrast a relational perspective on politics in the Southern metropolis with structuralist and residualist approaches. They argue that the relational approach to understanding the role of categorical inequalities in the politics of the city, state, and society provides a more nuanced and accurate account of the political and economic variations across the three largest Southern democracies. In doing so, they expand the original purview of Tilly's work to encompass thinking not only about the politics of development and globalization, but also the dynamics of urban citizenship that play a crucial role in shaping the character of state-society relations in all three.

The structuralist approach, identified here with the work of Mike Davis and other (predominantly Marxist) theorists of global capitlalist world system, emphasizes the power of structural, macro-economic forces to determine the shape and character of politics in the Global South. Heller and Evans critique structuralism for its failure to understand the effects of different patterns of citizenship,democratization and contestation on the relative capacity of the population as well as the various administrative levels of the national and local state to reduce social inequalities. They also question structuralism's deep pessimism about the opportunities to assert agency through collective action (by means of social movements, etc.) against the worst of global capitalism's effects.

In contrast, the residualist theories are identified as more consistent with the approach of economists and policy-makers who tend to view inequalities and anti-democratic politics as either market failures, institutional failures, or some combination thereof. The tendency among these scholars is to recommend a mixture of institutional capacity-building and/or technocratic policy reform to overcome (what they usually conclude to be) limitations of local attitudes or traditions. Heller and Evans criticize these arguments as overly optimistic about the capacity for individual agency in the face of durable inequalities reproduced by categorical distinctions that cannot simply be legislated away. They also argue that residualist theories cannot account for the variation in responses to technocratic policy solutions, each of which seem to fail in peculiar ways that cannot be reduced to economic or political forces alone.

In their analysis of India, South Africa and Brazil, Heller & Evans support their critique of structualism and residualism while also elaborating their interpretation of Tilly's perspective. In particular, they underscore the significance of contentious politics and social movements for understanding the shape of democratic citizenship across the three countries.

For Inida, the authors contend that democratic citizenship at the national level remains constrained by the durable effects of categorical inequalities such as caste, religion, and class at the local and state levels. Local clientelism has undermined national democracy.

In South Africa, Heller and Evans claim that the post-apartheid entrenchment of the ANC as the sole arbiter of state power coupled with the continued exclusion of poor blacks in the peripheries of the country's largest mega-cities has likewise constrained the opportunities for deepened democratic participation or reduced inequality. In this case, the overwhelming power of the national state has left no room for meaningful contestation or participation at the local leve. The result has been de-democratization throughout the country.

Finally, the authors point to Brazil as a counter example. Here, the institutionalization of popular social movements following the collapse of the military dictatorship was coupled with an expansion of citizenship rights and municipal level state autonomy. More so than in either India or South Africa, democratization in Brazil has meant the expansion and integration of contentious politics into the everyday relationship of citizens to the state at multiple levels. The result has been an increase of effective, participatory mechanisms of governance that reduce the long-standing effects of categorical inequalities.

Heller and Evans make a convincing case that taking Tilly South makes for important theoretical insights that go beyond either of the prevailing approaches to the study of durable inequalities and development in the capitalist world system. Perhaps most significantly in the context of much of the previous literature addressing similar themes within Sociology, Development Studies, and Political Science, the essay opens the door to a broade critique insofar as it "brings the city back in" to an area of study historically blind to sub-national dynamics below federal or state-level.

Theoretical and Practical Relevance

This paper extends the analytical framework of a contemporary American sociological theorist (Charles Tilly) to an area of research he did not study. The authors are both senior scholars in prominent sociology departments at prestigious U.S. universities. While the work is very recent, it may attract a wide readership among sociologists who study politics, globalization, political economy, and development.