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local state

  The set of institutions charged with the maintenance and protection of social relations at the sub-national level (see governance). This set includes local government, local judiciary, licensing authorities and the machinery of local politics, as well as quangos and other local administrative agencies (representative of central government, for instance). The term is most commonly invoked with reference to metropolitan-level governments, although it can also refer to state/provincial, county or regional scales.

The local state is part of the state apparatus: its existence is predicated on the need for crisis avoidance at the local level and it is a vital component in the control of spatially extensive and socially heterogeneous territories. No matter what the nature of the state organization (democratic, totalitarian, etc.), surveillance and social integration of the populace is facilitated by a decentralized structure of state organs. The local state also has an important political function, in that it legitimates central state actions through such means as party organizations and electoral politics. Local elections are buttressed by an ideology of participation or democracy which often insists on the right to local self-determination (cf. Tiebout model). Recent years, however, have witnessed various forms of retreat from local electoral politics, ranging from secessionist movements fragmenting local jurisdictions to the partial withdrawal from local state authority, commonly into privatized enclaves invested with their own regulatory powers (see private interest developments). This atomization of the local state, while increasing self-determination at the local level, has also rendered large metropolitan regions increasingly difficult (perhaps even impossible) to manage.

Conservative and liberal analysts, who simply view the business of government as the provision of public goods and services, tend to be primarily concerned with efficiency and control of local state operations. Other social theorists have concentrated on the reasons for the existence of a separate local state. For them, the fundamental theoretical question is the authority relationship between central and local states: \'To what extent is the local state autonomous from the central state?\' The local state is alternatively viewed as either the Achilles heel of the state or as the creature of the central state. In the former case, it is perceived as the weak and vulnerable gap in the central state\'s armour, because well-organized local social movements may be able to capture the state and, hence, practise a potentially threatening local autonomy. In the latter case, the local state is regarded as simply the puppet of the central agencies.

The question of local autonomy has fundamental political significance, since many pressure groups have attempted to capture the local state. The resolution of the question of the autonomy of the local state is most likely to be achieved only at the empirical level. The degree of autonomy is a function of the extent of local power of initiative, and local immunity from interference by other tiers of the state apparatus. By examining the power and role of significant human agents, such as urban managers and gatekeepers, it would be possible to determine the value of attempting to capture the local state. (For other views of local urban politics, see collective consumption and dual theory of the state.)

In the fragmented politics characteristic of postmodern society, the potential for political power at the local level is critically important in the fate of non-class-based social movements, such as those involving women, gays and minorities. This question is presently underscored in many capitalist countries by the contraction of the central state itself, in the process devolving greater administrative responsibility onto the local level. The ramifications of these developments are uncertain. On the one hand, it may be argued that this increasing prominence of the local state affords empowering opportunities for previously under-recognized minority groups, whether long-established, proliferating new immigrant, or newly formed through accelerating processes of cultural \'hybridization\'. But it may also be argued that in the absence of a central state presence, the limited scope and scale of the local state\'s operations, and the growing fragmentation of the local state itself, leaves the local state and the individuals under its jurisdiction increasingly disempowered in relation to supranation-states and transnational enterprises of varying degrees of legitimacy. (MJD)

Suggested Reading Castells, M. 1983: The city and the grassroots. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Clark, G.L. and Dear, M.J. 1984: State apparatus: structures and language of legitimacy. Boston: Allen and Unwin, ch. 3. Wolch, J.R. 1990: The shadow state. New York: The Foundation Center.



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