Placing theories of governance: a political geography of American Samoa
AffiliationSchool of Geography
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2018 Dr. Elissa Waters
This thesis concerns the study of ‘governance’, which is understood as the process of interactions between actors operating within and through institutions, with the power to steer society, for the purpose of achieving collective goals. Theories of governance are constrained by a lack of empirical research outside of large, continental, liberal democratic and sovereign states, yet on the basis of research in these places universalising claims about governance are made. In contrast, the literature on small states and islands suggests that scale and place mediate governance in important ways, so that studies that look for difference in anomalous geopolitical spaces are important counterpoints for dominant narratives in the governance literature. Therefore, the aim of this thesis is to understand how the dynamics of governance in American Samoa (a non-sovereign Pacific island U.S. territory) compare to the key claims of the governance literature. It does this by analysing the history of political relations in American Samoa, assessing the dynamics of governance during and after the 2009 tsunami in the territory, and observing governance processes and practices in the field. Data were collected from over 50 interview and participant observation over four months of fieldwork. This study of governance in American Samoa finds three key points of distinction to the dominant Anglo-European claims about governance. First, there is a mismatch between the type and influence of actors outlined in the governance literature (which are the state, NGOs and market actors) and those with the power to govern in American Samoa (which are the state, the church and chiefs), and this has significant consequences for the nature of governance in place. Second, the political and cultural history of the territory, combined with its size and scale, has served to mediate relative authority of these actors in ways that are quite different to those that the mainstream literature suggests prevail in most places. Third, and in turn, in American Samoa there is a complex mode of governance that differs from the dominant account of a shift from hierarchies to networks. These findings represent a new perspective on the assumptions and rationalities of the governance literature, and contribute to more geographically nuanced theories of governance.
Keywordsgovernance; Pacific; small islands; American Samoa
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