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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Reconceptualizing the theory of local autonomy Brown, Michael Peter


Conceptualizations of local autonomy to date are critiqued and an alternative theory is offered. Three ideal types of local autonomy are reconstructed from existing literature: fiscal, political, and legal autonomy. Two specific criticisms are made: that each holds a deficient conceptualization of the local; and that each has a negative and constrained view of power and autonomy. Existing literature oversimplifies states' domination at the expense of local autonomy. A theory of local autonomy, I argue, must begin with the question of how localities can and cannot be autonomous rather than a prevailing focus on what they stand autonomous from. In this way, local autonomy and its absence (heteronomy) become dialectical concepts. I develop these points through a discussion of Massachusetts' inclusionary housing policy. The policy's drafting and its current impact in four suburbs provide the empirical basis for theoretical reconstruction. "Local" is viewed from a place-making perspective: places are seen as meaningful sets of social relations relative to a geographic context. Meaning is produced, reproduced, and contested within those contexts. A place's autonomy is related to the way in which meaningful sets of social relations are made to be "powerful" or "powerless" through a process of reification. Relating "local" to "autonomy" demands a relational and circulatory theory of power rather than prevailing corporeal theories. This reconceptualization is beneficial in theoretically relating power and place because it emphasizes the complexity and dynamics of relations of domination and resistance; because it highlights the relation between place making and truth/knowledge claims; and because it does not heuristically disentangle social processes whose very interaction is theoretically significant.

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