Local Politics in a comparative Perspective – Petrozavodsk and Tuebingen

Most recently I have published an edited volume on Local Politics in a comparative perspective together with my collegue Elena Ivanovna Chernenkova from Petrozavodsk State University. It brings together case study and comparative articles on aspects of local politics in both cities that were intensly discussed in a workshop in October 2016 and are the groundwork for further cooperation.

  • Rolf Frankenberger & Elena Chernenkova (eds.): Local Politics in a Comparative Perspective – The Cases of Petrozavodsk and Tübingen. Baden-Baden: Nomos. 272 pp., ISBN 978-3-8487-3892-2

All Politics is local. This is at least what former Congressman and US Speaker of the House of Representatives Tip O’Neill is said to have stated referring to the principle that successful politicians have to stay connected to their constituency and to the problems, interests and opinions of their local electorate.[1] But, as Peter Allen and David Cutts ask, “what do we mean by local?”.[2] Can we reduce the term local to the rootedness of national politics in the grass of constituencies, communities, or municipalities? This might be one way to define it. One could also argue that even though all politics is local, local politics is where the people are. This shifts the focus of analysis away from the national level of the political system towards the regional or even local level of governance, government, politics and participation. There are manifold studies dealing with political phenomena on the local level in different disciplines from political science to public administration, from geography to ethnography, from economics to architecture. Even though probably addressing the same entities, the foci of interest slightly shift: Whereas Urban Studies[3] mainly focus on development and planning of cities, Local and Municipal Government Studies highlight the importance of public administrations and governmental institutions in local politics.[4] Local Governance Studies instead broaden the perspective of politics by including private, business and not-for business actors in their analysis of political decision making.[5] And there are also different perspectives on actors in local politics. Whereas some studies focus on political elites, others take a grassroots perspective on citizen government, civic participation, and social engagement.

Starting from the notion that local self-government is one of the core principles for the political organization of municipalities across Europe[6], this volume takes a slightly different perspective, that in a way combines several aspects of the fields of study mentioned above. Municipalities are the venue for citizens to directly experience politics, and they also constitute the playground for diverse actors from business, civil society, administration and politics in the political arena. Thus, one could argue that local politics work similarly irrespective of cultural, political and social environments, as they are driven by local needs and demands. This narrow perspective on local politics seems to be somewhat misleading, given the fact that the local political level of municipalities is embedded in multi-level governance arrangements and political institutions. And they are embedded in different settings of (political) culture and society.

If we then want to understand local politics, we should widen the perspective of analysis and treat regional belonging, institutional settings and multi-level governance at least as potential determinants of variation. As research-literature doing or dealing with inter- and cross-regional comparisons suggests, these systemic environments still do have impact on local self-government[7]: They might constrain political actors and shape political processes in very specific ways. Examining two cities – Petrozavodsk and Tübingen – in comparative case studies and from a comparative perspective, social scientists and practitioners in politics and civil society from both municipalities contributing to the volume analyze how local politics and political culture are shaped in multi-level governance, how state-society relations and civic participation work in different systemic settings.

The volume comprises six thematic sections, each focusing on a different aspect of local politics. Starting from more general theoretical and methodological issues in section I, we investigate in political culture, identity and public opinion in section II . The articles in section III deal with social innovation as a mechanism and driving force of change and development in municipalities. In sections IV, V, and VI we broaden the perspectives, starting from political participation in local politics, passing on to state-society relations and NGOs and ending up with international relations in local politics.

[1]     Cf. Gelman, Andrew 2011: All Politics is Local? The debate and the Graphs. FiveThrityEight, 03.01.2011. https://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/03/all-politics-is-local-the-debate-and-the-graphs/ (01.08.2017).

[2]     Allen, Peter/Cutts, David 2014: All Politics is local – but what do we actually mean by local. Political Insight, 17.02.2014. https://www.psa.ac.uk/insight-plus/blog/all-politics-local-%E2%80%93-what-do-we -actually-mean-local (01.08.2017).

[3]     For an overview on Urban Studies cf. Paddison, Ronan (ed.) 2001: Handbook of Urban Studies, London.

[4]     For an overview on different aspects of local politics cf. Haider-Markel, Donald 2014: The Oxford Handbook of State and Local Government, Oxford; Baldersheim, Harald/Wollmann, Hellmut (eds.) 2006: The Comparative Study of Local Government and Politics: Overview and Synthesis, Leverkusen.

[5]     For trends and the shift from urban studies to urban governance studies, cf. McCann, Eugene 2017: Governing urbanism: Urban governance studies 1.0, 2.0 and beyond, in: Urban Studies 54 (2), pp. 312-326; Pierre, Jon 2005: Comparative Urban Governance-Uncovering Complex Causalities, in: Urban Affairs Review 40, pp. 446–462.  For shifts from Government to Governance, cf. Andrew, Caroline/Goldsmith, Michael 1998: From Local Government to Local Governance and beyond?, in: International Political Science review 19, pp. 101-117; John, Peter 2001: Local Governance in Western Europe, London. An overview on Governance: Bevir, Marc (ed.) 2010: The Sage handbook of governance, London.

[6]     Local self-government is codified in German Basic Law (Art. 28, 2.1) as well as in the Constitution of the Russian Federation (Art.12, 1+2). In addition, both countries have ratified the European Charter on Local Self-Government in 1988, and 1998 respectively.

[7]     Cf. Ahram, Ariel I. 2011: The theory and method of comparative area studies”, in: Qualitative Research 11(1), pp. 69-90; Basedau, Matthias/Köllner, Patrick 2007: Area studies, comparative area studies, and the study of politics: Context, substance, and methodological challenges, in: Zeitschrift für vergleichende Politikwissenschaft 1(1), pp. 105-124; Frankenberger, Rolf/Kiener, Isabel 2015: Kommunale Politik im Wandel: Petrosawodsk und Tübingen, Tübingen; Frankenberger, Rolf/Graf, Patricia 2013: Von Mangos und Pflaumen. Herausforderungen interregional vergleichender Fallstudien, Paper presented at the Conference „Politik, Region(en) und Kultur in der vergleichenden Politikwissenschaft“ der Sektion Vergleichende Politikwissenschaft der DVPW in Leipzig, 09.-11.10.2013.

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