Urban Origins of Democracy and Inequality: Governing São Paulo and Johannesburg, 1985-2016


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




In Brazil and South Africa, the social basis for democracy in the 1980s and 1990s comprised an alliance of trade unions with neighborhood-based organizations that fought for urban rights like housing, sanitation, and transportation. These countries are now rare among middle-income nations for constitutions that decentralize administration and finances to realize socioeconomic rights. In São Paulo and Johannesburg, each country’s largest city, these similarities led to different outcomes: reduced urban inequalities in São Paulo and reproduced inequalities in Johannesburg. This dissertation draws on 16 months of fieldwork in both cities, including 240 semi-structured interviews, archival research, and spatial analysis of national and municipal data sources. It argues that configurations of embeddedness of the local state in civil society and the cohesion of the institutional sphere of the local state explain why and when cities are able to reduce inequalities in the distribution of public goods.