Too Dysfunctional to Govern: Trauma Capital and State Retreat in Rural Alaska
HOWK-DISSERTATION-2019.pdf (2.150Mb)(embargoed until: 2023-05-01)
Howk, Jennifer W.
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CitationHowk, Jennifer W. 2019. Too Dysfunctional to Govern: Trauma Capital and State Retreat in Rural Alaska. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation explores the case of indigenous communities in Alaska and their changing relationship with the state over nearly two centuries. It argues that persistent underdevelopment and inequality can, under certain conditions, actually be a mutually beneficial equilibrium that emerges between state and society. Such an equilibrium evolved in the Alaskan case as a result of failed, state-led development efforts that contributed to mutual learning, shifting priorities, and changing signals and strategies as both Alaska Native elites and state elites developed their understanding of their respective possibilities, constraints, and incentives over a very long period of time.
I offer two core concepts for making sense this process. The first, “captive inclusion,” describes an institutional arrangement of administrative decentralization in which the state effectively retreats from a “dysfunctional” group. In a captive inclusion dynamic, the state concedes a significant amount of autonomy to a given group behind a tacit understanding that the group does not actually have the capacity to successfully govern itself—it is, in a very real sense, expected to fail.
In Alaska’s case, the institutional arrangement of captive inclusion is made possible by the second concept, which I call “trauma capital”—a source of social currency that leverages claims of historical and current trauma, distress, and vulnerability in communities that lack alternative markers of status and success. From its beginnings as an internal social process, trauma capital and its handmaiden, “resilience,” become the pretext for a group’s inability to successfully govern itself apart from matters of “informal” or “local” concern. In this way, some degree of partial autonomy is possible—but only so long as the group remains “vulnerable” and therefore does not represent an economic or political threat to the state.
I trace the history of social relations between the state and Alaska Natives from the beginning, and uncover the origins and development of the contemporary institutional dynamics that drive economic underdevelopment across rural Alaska—as well as illuminate the forms of social and political isolation that leave Native villages uniquely and paradoxically vulnerable to the consequences of Arctic climate change.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42029692
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