Urban social movements and local state capacity

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Studies of social movements generally focus on the mechanisms through which movements affect the political will of states. Much of this research, in turn, implicitly assumes that the state has the capacity to realize the decisions adopted as a result of movement action. Focusing on local governments in young democracies, this article examines whether and how state capacities contribute to movement-initiated policy change and associated delivery in the sphere of housing and land use. It analyzes contrasting cases of local state capacities using a paired “most-similar” comparison of two megacities of the Global South, each of which underwent transitions to democracy in the past three decades: São Paulo, Brazil, and Johannesburg, South Africa. In São Paulo, state capacities facilitated policy success. These capacities were developed through interactions between movements and key bureaucratic allies. In Johannesburg, by contrast, the local bureaucracy became both impervious to movement pressure and unable to counter strategies by business elites to weaken efforts at policy reform. State capacity in this case hindered reforms. As a result, in São Paulo, sequential, reinforcing feedback loops of city-wide movement mobilization and formal policy reforms took shape. In Johannesburg, lack of openness of the state to civil society led grassroots movement organizations to refrain from city-wide policy reform efforts and to increasingly organize their activity at the neighborhood and street levels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106415
JournalWorld Development
StatePublished - Jan 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics


  • Cities
  • Democracy
  • Housing
  • Land use
  • Local Government
  • Movements
  • Sanitation


Dive into the research topics of 'Urban social movements and local state capacity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this