By Jack Lucas, University of Calgary, Department of Political Science
Urban political authority is complicated. To explain who governs our cities, we first need to acknowledge that our answers will vary across time: a city that looks like a beacon of pluralism today may have been governed by a closed elite only a few decades ago. We also need to acknowledge that political authority varies across cities: take a snapshot of North American urban governance at any point in history and you will find a range of political institutions, embodying widely varying authority structures, in different cities across the continent. Even within our cities, political authority varies across policy domains; authority structures in education, for instance, might look very different from those in policing or public works.
How can we compare and explain long-term patterns of urban political authority without getting lost in this complexity? In my article, I suggest that the “American Political Development” approach, or “APD”, can help us answer this question. For more than three decades, scholars in the APD tradition have been working to explain the historical development of political authority within and across the American state. They, too, have discovered that political authority is complicated, varying not only across space and time but also across different parts of the American state itself. To capture this complexity, APD scholars have suggested a concept – “intercurrence” – to describe the way our snapshots of particular states or time periods always capture multiple forms of political authority within a single frame.