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The Masks of the Political God by Luca Ozzano

Democracy on a Mega-City Scale

Local Government
Marta Wojciechowska
The London School of Economics & Political Science
Marta Wojciechowska
The London School of Economics & Political Science

This paper offers an account of democracy and practical reforms for democratisation of mega-cities: big, porous and dense urban agglomerations. Vast part of mega-city dwellers are unregistered migrants, asylum seekers escaping from conflict or natural disasters. Some of them are economic migrants escaping poverty and looking for a better future (Berner 2000). Such migrants often live or work in the informal sphere (Davis 2006; Neuwirth 2005; Roy 2005, Yiftachel 2009). At the same time, mega-cities are important actors in the global economy (Sassen 2001). Global international corporations invest in cities, locate their offices or infrastructure within their territories and acquire urban land and properties. Many other non-state actors effectively govern modern cities: international NGO’s and banks, criminal organisations, religious, ethnic and social associations (Frug 2017, Magnusson 2001). These agents are usually not accountable to the state neither to the city inhabitants. They realise diverse aims, programs and agendas. As a result, mega-cities are highly unequal, fragmented, uncoordinated, pluralistic and complex.
In this paper, I argue that existing conceptions or models of democracy are not suitable for analysing mega-cities. These cities are not nation-states; vast of its decision-making happens in the informal sphere. Therefore, the procedural, election-focused notions of democracy are of no use in this context. I offer a different notion of democracy, connected, simply, to political agency of mega-city inhabitants. In this understanding, democratic polity promotes political agency in conditions of equality for all its members. Consequently, this paper proposes a set of concrete reforms that promote democracy in mega-cities that effectively enhance political agency of mega-cities’ inhabitants. In particular, it argues for a diverse range of democratic innovations and a broad institutional support for social movements. It also argues for structural interventions that facilitate inhabitants’ access to the resources and opportunities and for the implementation of policies focused on capabilities approach and disintegration as suitable means for addressing conditions of structural oppression in mega-cities, also those located in the Global North. The originality of the proposal lays in its focus on a multidimensional and pluralistic way of mega-cities as opposed to ‘one-fits-all’ normative and empirical solutions present in the literature.
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