When sub-state communities demand and obtain autonomy
: A comparative analysis of sub-state mobilisation and restructuring in Belgium, Spain and the United Kingdom

Student thesis: Doc typesDoctor of Political and Social sciences


When do sub-state communities demand autonomy and when do states accept to confer it? This question is at the centre of the present dissertation, which examines under which conditions sub-state mobilisation and sub-state restructuring have occurred and influenced each other in three typical cases of centrifugal sociological decentralisation: Belgium, Spain and the United Kingdom. Through a reassessment of sociological, economic, institutionalist, functionalist and rational-choice factors that the literature had found relevant, the research systemically compared in which combination of these factors autonomy demands and statutes of sub-state communities arose and evolved. In order to do so, a refined measurement of sub-state autonomy called Sub-state Autonomy Scale (SAS) was created and a new variant of Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) that is suitable for longitudinal comparisons was developed.
The results of the analyses indicate that the rise and increase of autonomy demands and statutes were driven by a combination of sociological (and economic) and rational-choice factors for strongly distinctive and aggrieved sub-state communities. For sub-state communities with weaker distinctiveness and grievances to which the demands and statutes of the former have spilled over, combinations of sociological, functionalist, institutionalist and rational-choice factors were found relevant. These dynamics can be interpreted as two ‘waves’ of centrifugal sociological decentralisation, the first of which came with autonomy demands and statutes in sub-state communities with strong sociological distinctiveness that incited a second wave among sub-state communities with weaker (albeit present) forms of distinctiveness, as well as their own extension.
For the mutual influence of sub-state autonomy demands and statutes, the findings indicate that what has been called the ‘paradox of federalism’ cannot be fully resolved because both the conferral and non-conferral of sub-state autonomy lead to an increase of autonomy demands. Yet, the non-conferral can be expected to lead to a greater exacerbation of autonomy demands in large and strongly distinctive and aggrieved sub-state communities, while the non-conferral of autonomy in smaller or less distinctive and aggrieved sub-state communities appeared leading to the persistence of the autonomy demands that conferrals could have accommodated.
When thinking about the longer-term perspectives, four plausible scenarios of how the first two waves of centrifugal sociological decentralisation could evolve are sketched-out: partial de-federalisation, quasi-confederalisation, independence and differentiated de- and re-federalisation.
Taken together, the thesis shows when and how factors from different theoretical stands interact when leading to the rise and evolution of autonomy demands and statutes. This allowed to develop a cross-theoretical frame for the interpretation and analysis of sub-state mobilisation and restructuring through what was called ‘the three waves of centrifugal sociological decentralisation’.
Date of Award27 Aug 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Namur
SupervisorJérémy Dodeigne (Supervisor), Min Reuchamps (Supervisor), Nathalie Burnay (President), Frédéric Bouhon (Jury), Sandra León (Jury), Nicola McEwen (Jury) & Arjan Schakel (Jury)

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