Rescaling Governance and the Impacts of Political and Environmental Decentralization

 Special issue of World Development journal, 34 (11) pp1851-1995,2006.


Ed. Simon Batterbury, Univ. of Melbourne, Australia


The papers are contributions to the emerging literature on the impacts of changes in the level or scale of political governance. The ‘impacts’ discussed are broad, though most of them emerge from neo-liberal development agendas and donor conditionalities designed to improve environmental governance.  Impacts range from landscape changes at field and village, to broad historical changes to power relationships and social networks - they include changes to levels of corruption, social wellbeing and social capital; functioning of community-based natural resource management; regional development, and the effectiveness of new political institutions to deliver equitable governance. Papers treat the question of impact and outcome in different ways, but the governance theme is strong in each. All papers combine on-the-ground empirical assessments (of decentralization policies, in particular) with historical analysis and reflection on individual cases.  These papers, as we describe in the introductory article, are important examples of the interdisciplinary contributions of geography and allied disciplines to the understanding of governance.


The collection makes the point that scaling ’down’ governance to local levels has serious problems – many of these, however, replace other problems that existed prior to decentralization reforms being initiated. Some of these issues are, of course, prefigured in the colonial period. If one adopts the idea of ‘governmentality’ (see our intro) then a powerful development discourse can have multiple scale effects, that need to be charted and explained. Scale and history matter – the new critiques of “scale” in social science, by Massey, Ferguson, and my former colleagues Sallie Marston and JP Jones don’t work as well in the cases outlines here when governance occurs at discrete and bounded “scales” and political hierarchies of power are very important. At these scales, of course, there are complex social networks operating, as these authors suggest.  


The collection has already been used by DANIDA for training of senior government officials of the Royal Government of Cambodia, to guide sub-national democratic development for the use of and management of land and natural resources in the country (November 2006). The collection is also being adopted in 2007 for teaching at several universities.


You have to subscribe to the journal to get the papers (until the copyright allows greater access in a few years), but get in touch with me if you have difficulties.



1. Rescaling governance and the impacts of political and environmental decentralization: an introduction  World Development 34 (11): 1851-1863. older version here on the link)


Dr Simon Batterbury, School of Anthropology, Geography and Environmental Studies (SAGES), University of Melbourne, Australia & Dr Jude L Fernando, IDCE, Clark University, USA.


This article introduces a collection of papers that provide empirical studies of the impacts that result from changes to established modes of governance: in particular, decentralizing the scale at which state institutions operate or the privatization of service delivery. We critically assess the claims made for “good governance” reforms in the light of these studies. Altering the scale, and the style, of governance has inevitable consequences for power structures, institutions, livelihoods, and physical landscapes. We offer a framework for analyzing these consequences, focusing on the temporal and scalar dimensions of political and environmental decentralization and changes to established modes of governance.


2. Recentralizing while Decentralizing: How National Governments Reappropriate Forest Resources. World Development 34(11) 1864-1886


Dr Jesse Ribot, Senior Fellow, World Resources Institute. Dr Arun Agrawal, Associate Professor, University of Michigan: Dr Ann Larson, CIFOR

Decentralization initiatives have been launched in the majority of developing countries, but these rarely lay the foundations necessary to reach decentralization's purported efficiency and equity benefits. This paper uses a comparative empirical approach to show how central governments in six countries-Senegal, Uganda, Nepal, Indonesia, Bolivia, and Nicaragua-use a variety of strategies to obstruct the democratic decentralization of resource management and, hence, retain central control. Effective decentralization requires the construction of accountable institutions at all levels of government and a secure domain of autonomous decision making at the local level.


3. Governing Access to Forests in Northern Ghana: micro-politics and the rents of non-enforcement World Development 34(11): 1887-1906.

 [related article here]


D. Andrew WardellCounsellor-Development, Royal Danish Embassy, Phnom Penh, Cambodia  [Andrew ‘at’] and Prof. Christian Lund, IDS, Roskilde University, Denmark


Decentralization of natural resource management is often presented as a novelty. However, successive attempts to decentralize authority were undertaken during the development of forest policy in the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast Colony between the 1930s and 1950s. From 1960, however, this was rolled back. Forest policy was thenceforth characterized by centralization, exclusion, and restrictive legislation. New forest policies of local management from the 1990s attempt to change this but differ from "colonial decentralization" in terms of institutional fragmentation and the absence of effective fiscal decentralization. The assumed illegality of people's use of the resources and the non-enforcement of the law provides a context for monetary and political rent seeking for political agents.


4. Decentralization, Ecological Construction, and the Environment in Post-reform China: Case Study from Uxin Banner, Inner Mongolia. World Development  34(11) 1907-1921


Dr Hong Jiang, Assistant Professor, Geography, University of Wisconsin


This paper explores why post-reform decentralization in China has failed to bring about environmental sustainability, using a case study from Uxin banner in Inner Mongolia. The local government has promoted intensive grassland improvement in its political, economic, and environmental policies under the umbrella of "ecological construction," a term used to describe the enhancement of vegetation cover on this arid terrain. The government's aggressive approach to ecological construction, however, is incongruent with the ecology of the Inner Mongolian drylands. Consequently, although beneficial to short-term economic growth, "ecological construction" has led to unintended grassland degradation, thus undermining environmental sustainability.


5. Decentralized Corruption or Corrupt Decentralization? Community Monitoring of Poverty-Alleviation Schemes in Eastern India World Development 34(11) 1922-1941


Dr. René Véron, Department of Geography, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.  Dr Glyn Williams, Sheffield University. Prof Stuart Corbridge, London School of Economics. Manoj Srivastava, London School of Economics


Democratic decentralization and community participation often stand at the center of an agenda of "good governance" that aims to reduce corruption and increase the state's accountability to its citizens. However, this paper suggests based on empirical studies on the Employment Assurance Scheme in rural West Bengal that the strength of upward accountability (especially to political parties) is as crucial as downward accountability to communities. When these vertical accountabilities are weak, horizontal accountability structures between local civil society and officials can mutate into networks of corruption in which "community" actors become accomplices or primary agents.

6. Is small really beautiful? Community-based natural resource management in Malawi and Botswana.  World Development 34(11)1942-1957


Prof Piers Blaikie, School of Development Studies, University of East Anglia


Community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) remains a popular policy with many international funding institutions, in spite of growing evidence of its disappointing outcomes. It is underpinned by theoretically justified benefits which serve to reproduce and market it. The paper explores approaches to understand and rectify these failures. The conclusion is that explanatory effort should be expanded from the "facilitating characteristics" of potentially successful CBNRM sites to include two sets of interfaces-those between donors and recipient states, and between the state (especially the local state) and CBNRMs at the local level. Illustrative examples in Botswana and Malawi are given throughout the discussion.


Shorter version published as Blaikie, P. 2005. Community-based natural resource management in Mali and Botswana. In  Frank Ellis, Harry A Freedman (eds.) 2005. Rural Livelihoods and Poverty Reduction Policies. Routledge. Pp294-308.

 7. Local Capacity, Village Governance and the Political Economy of Rural Development in Indonesia World Development 34(11)1958-1976


Prof. Anthony Bebbington, (Institute for Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester, UK Leni Dharmawan (Social Development Group World Bank, Jakarta, Indonesia) , Erwin Fahmi (University of Indonesia, Jakarta) , Scott Guggenheim (Social Development Group World Bank, Jakarta, Indonesia) 


This paper develops a framework for conceptualizing local capacity to address village level livelihood and governance problems. The framework is based on an analysis of asset distribution, combined with an explicit analysis of the links between processes of state formation, state-business linkages and local forms of social capital. The framework is used to discuss findings from recent research on village capacity in rural Indonesia. The discussion suggests that it is possible to link a political, economic approach to rural development with recent conceptualizations of social capital. Such an analysis can illuminate the forms taken by and the effectiveness of village level collective action in ways that either purely political economy or social capital approaches do not. 

8. Paradoxes of Decentralization: Water Reform and Social Implications in Mexico World Development 34(11) 1977-1995


Dr Margaret Wilder, Assistant Professor, Center for Latin American Studies, University of Arizona, USA &  Prof. Patricia Romero Lankao, Deputy Director, Institute for the Study of Society and Environment (ISSE), NCAR, Boulder Colorado, USA


Decentralized governance of water resources is a centerpiece of Mexico's neoliberal reform strategy. We analyze decentralization based on urban/rural case studies in distinct geographical regions to ascertain whether it is linked to more efficient water management or sustainable use of water resources, and to examine its development implications. We assess whether or not private sector management is related to a more efficient, sustainable, and accountable management of water variety of municipal and private management arrangement in four urban areas. We find that it has not resulted in efficiency or sustainability gains. For agricultural water management, irrigation districts in two case studies benefited from the more democratic participatory management by water users under Mexico's "transference" strategy, but did not result in greater equity, efficiency or sustainability of water use. We argue that decentralization in the Mexican water sector is context specific, and marked by limited benefits. Privatization is less an instrument aimed at improving efficiency than a channel for preferred treatment for capital accumulation by private entities as well as a legitimized way for the state to transfer the burden of water management to non-state institutions. The creation of new forms of water institutions requires not the retrenchment of the state but rather its involvement to ensure accountability, transparency, equity, and sustainability.