Local Governance at the Intersection of Peace and State Formation in Syria: The Case of Al-Raqqa’s Revolution-Induced Areas of Limited Statehood (2011-2022)

Student thesis: Phd


The Arab Spring™ precipitated areas of limited statehood (ALS) that hosted potentially state transformative governance experiments. Knowledge about the mode, genealogy and evolution of governance in these ALS is essential for understanding the complex processes of revolution, conflict and peace in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). However, theorisation specific to this region's revolutionary situation is in its infancy. Prevailing empirical research remains largely securitised, rebel-centric and based on linear and technocratic assumptions that fail to engage with the multidimensionality and transformative potential of governance in these areas. This thesis uses a multidisciplinary lens to theorise ALS in the MENA to address this knowledge gap. It brings fields such as Sociology, Peace and Conflict Studies, and Middle East Studies into conversation with scholarship on rebel governance, revolution and ALS. This theorisation helps elaborate the factors behind the rise, consolidation and change of forms of local governance, investigating the intersection of peace and state formation in Syria. Empirically, the dissertation examines the case of Al-Raqqa by analysing secondary and primary data. The author held 32 semi-structured interviews with Raqqawi refugees and humanitarian workers between 2019 and 2022. Al-Raqqa is a critical case as it embodies the first Local Council (LC) in Syria's ALS and the capital city of both the Islamic State (IS) Caliphate and the Democratic Union's Party (PYD)-led self-administration. This is also a revelatory case, given the difficulty of creating access to Raqqawis' trust-based networks. This thesis makes theoretical and empirical contributions to the state-of-the-art literature. Theoretically, it develops an ALS conceptualisation specific to revolutionary situations, as in the MENA. It juxtaposes two modes of governance, Everyday State Formation (ESF) and State Formation (SF), to determine the main factors behind the rise, consolidation and change of governance formations. In framing these factors, this thesis defers from dominant linear and rebel-centric approaches with a relational approach that integrates other agencies and structural factors. These factors refer to 1) continuities and ruptures to pre-existing power relations, 2) rules and resources, and 3) interactions at the local, state and international sites of politics. Empirically, this thesis documents the rise, consolidation and change of the LC, IS and PYD in Al-Raqqa over a decade. Its comparative analysis across these governance formations further feeds lessons learnt towards an emancipatory peace and state transformation in contexts like Syria.
Date of Award1 Aug 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorBirte Vogel (Supervisor) & Sandra Pogodda (Supervisor)


  • civil society
  • areas of limited statehood
  • local governance
  • Middle East North Africa
  • rebel governance
  • revolution
  • peace formation
  • conflict
  • Syria;

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