GLD Working Papers

Media Bias, Kurdish Repression, and the Dismantling of Local Democracy in Turkey

Melissa Marschall and Saadet Konak Unal


In this article, we explore how heightened repression and the consolidation of power by the executive branch in Turkey have allowed Erdoğan to take steps that further undermine the country’s democratic evolution. We argue that Erdoğan’s increasing pressure on the media, along with the state of emergency following the 2016 coup attempt, facilitated the repression of Kurdish municipalities. Focusing on the targeting of HDP mayors by the central government, we describe the political process leading to the purge of elected mayors and the normalization of the trustee system (kayyım) at the local level. We then conduct a content analysis of news articles to empirically examine potential bias in Turkish news outlets’ reporting. Our findings demonstrate differences in the content and framing of articles published by national and international news outlets concerning HDP co-mayors’ events and the takeover of their municipalities. We find that Turkish news outlets overwhelmingly promote the AKP party line, rarely provide balanced reporting, and propagate a ‘Kurds as terrorists’ frame.

Municipal Boundaries and the Politics of Space in Tunisia

Intissar Kherigi


This paper examines Tunisia’s 2015-17 municipal boundary reform process, undertaken in preparation for the decentralization process mandated under the 2014 constitution. It analyzes how municipal boundary decisions were made, the actors who were involved, and the logic that shaped the reform process. Through extensive fieldwork in the capital, Tunis, and in eight municipalities around Tunisia, this paper explores how the underpinning logics of national decision-making collide with the spatial realities of local actors. This paper argues that the municipal boundary reforms were guided by a combination of security-based and clientelist logics that imposed centralized conceptions of space and failed to engage with territories as lived spaces. Furthermore, it argues that, by failing to address the social, economic and spatial implications of boundary reforms, the reforms contributing to producing a despatialized decentralization process that ultimately has little meaning for residents and proves problematic for the resulting municipalities and their constituent relations. The process thus replicates many of the same logics and conceptions of space that have shaped territorial governance since the colonial era.

How Gender and Local State Capacity Shape Citizens’ Use of the Mosque

Steven Brooke and Monica C. Komer


There is a well-documented gender gap in mosque use in the Islamic World, with men attending Friday prayer more frequently than women. However, we know little about whether a gender gap exists among those that use the mosque for non-religious purposes. Using original survey data from Tunisia, we find that men are generally more likely than women to use mosques for non-religious reasons. However, in areas further from the coast—where communities face considerably more social and economic disparities—the gender gap dissipates. In areas above the 60th percentile in terms of distance from the coast, there is no gender gap in citizen preferences for mosque-based services. Our findings build upon existing work in two notable ways. First, our results suggest that individual and community level factors jointly shape preferences for mosque-based services. Second, they suggest that mosques may be particularly important places for women in marginalized areas to address personal and community problems.

Disease Threat, Stereotypes, and Covid–19: An Early View from Malawi and Zambia

Karen E. Ferree, Kristen Kao, Boniface Dulani, Adam S. Harris, Ellen Lust, Cecilia Ahsan Jansson, and Erica Metheney


A growing literature documents Covid–19’s health and economic effects. Can Covid–19 also exacerbate identity divisions? Psychologists argue that contagious disease increases threat perception, provoking policing of group boundaries and discrimination against perceived outsiders. We focus here on a mechanism underlying this work, the emergence of disease-based stereotypes. Employing survey experiments administered over the phone in Malawi (N=4,641) and Zambia (N=2,198) in May-August 2020, we explore how insider/outsider status and symptoms of illness shape perceptions of infection, reported willingness to help, and desire to restrict free movement of an ailing neighbor. We find mixed evidence for outsider stereotypes: Malawians associate the disease more with outsiders; Zambians do not. In both countries, moreover, symptoms more strongly shape perceptions and hypothetical behavior than insider/outsider status, suggesting that objective risk matters more than identities in shaping responses to the illness.


The Social Bureaucrat: How Social Proximity among Bureaucrats Affects Local Governance

Tugba Bozcaga


Most studies that examine subnational variations in public services associate low government performance with a lack of accountability. I instead offer a capacity-based explanation. Specifically, I develop a theory based on bureaucratic efficiency and argue that bureaucratic efficiency increases with social proximity among bureaucrats, bureaucrats’ informal ties with other bureaucrats in their jurisdiction because informal ties do not only serve communication or socialization purposes but also decrease transaction costs associated with the production and allocation process of public services. Testing the observable implications of this theory, I find that social proximity, as proxied by geographic proximity, increases bureaucratic efficiency. However, in line with theoretical expectations, geographic proximity is less likely to lead to high bureaucratic efficiency in socially fragmented network structures or when there are ethnic divisions between bureaucrats. Six months of fieldwork in regions of Turkey with different political and ethnic geographies inform the descriptive inferences underlying the theory and its observable implications. I leverage a geographical regression discontinuity design to test my theory. My empirical tests employ novel administrative data from 30,000 villages and 970 districts in Turkey, geospatial indicators constructed using spatial analysis tools and satellite images, and antenna-level mobile call detail records. This study advances research on public goods provision by studying local public services outside of citizen-centered accountability explanations, instead of revealing capacity-driven sources of government performance.