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Administrative Unit Proliferation

  • GUY GROSSMAN (a1) and JANET I. LEWIS (a2)

Numerous developing countries have substantially increased their number of subnational administrative units in recent years. The literature on this phenomenon is, nonetheless, small and suffers from several theoretical and methodological shortcomings: in particular, a unit of analysis problem that causes past studies to mistakenly de-emphasize the importance of local actors. We posit that administrative unit proliferation occurs where and when there is a confluence of interests between the national executive and local citizens and elites from areas that are politically, economically, and ethnically marginalized. We argue further that although the proliferation of administrative units often accompanies or follows far-reaching decentralization reforms, it likely results in a recentralization of power; the proliferation of new local governments fragments existing units into smaller ones with lower relative intergovernmental bargaining power and administrative capacity. We find support for these arguments using original data from Uganda.

Corresponding author
Guy Grossman is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania, 225 Stiteler Hall, 208 S. 37th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA (
Janet I. Lewis is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, U.S. Naval Academy, 589 McNair Road Annapolis, MD 21402, USA (
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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
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