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Safe sisters: limitations of sister city relationships for international peace building


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Lloyd, B (2010) Safe sisters: limitations of sister city relationships for international peace building. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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The focus of this study is the capacity of sister city relationships to build international
peace under conditions of ongoing geopolitical conflict. Although credited with high
potential in popular, political and academic discourses, peace focused sister city
relationships have been the subject of minimal empirical research. As socially constructed
realities, these relationships offer an opportunity to uncover processes through which
personal and collective meanings are translated into structures of social inclusion and
exclusion at the local/international interface. As a concrete point of reference, I identify
the ideal function of sister city relationships as the boundary object, an abstract or material
intermediary through which actors from diverse social worlds work productively together
on shared projects. Employing a symbolic interactionist theoretical framework and the
research methods of observation, semi-structured interviews and discourse analysis, I
examine sister city peace proposals and relationships between American/Australian cities
and cities in Palestine and Iraq. I address deficiencies in the existing literature by
formulating an empirically and theoretically supported and testable analytical model,
comprising two components: the ‘concept’ (a blend of ‘human family’ and ‘citizen
diplomat’ tropes) and the ‘structure’ (the local authority/citizen group dyad).
The sister cities peace model is seen to break down under the pressure of
competing imperatives to manage risk, preventing the creation of boundary objects.
Instead, dissonance within the ‘concept’ component produces ‘consensus objects’ (U.SIraqi
relationships), which mimic boundary objects by creating a misleading impression
that communication across significant difference is being achieved in the interests of
positive social change. Incompatible meanings within the ‘structure’ component result in
‘risk objects’ (U.S./Australian-Palestinian proposals), which are deemed by local
authorities to be sources of danger and consequently ejected from council agendas. The
model is concluded to be highly flexible, but insufficiently robust to meet the high
expectations placed upon it. For citizen peace actors, its semantic plasticity results either
in engulfment of their universal sympathies by nationalist agendas, or disappointment and
resentment when their initiatives are rejected at the local scale. For local authorities, it
engenders acrimonious divisions within their municipalities and ambiguities in their
obligations to citizens. The single successful Western-Palestinian proposal examined is
judged to have succeeded due to an atypical absence of local opposition, but is considered
significant in other dimensions. The thesis concludes with a discussion of alternative
directions in sister city relationships and implications of the study as a whole for local
government policy and practice.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information:

© 2010 the author

Date Deposited: 13 Jan 2011 22:36
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2016 05:53
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