Contested Governance

Governance is one of the most widely used conceptual terms in contemporary social science research. Yet in spite of its popularity, ongoing debates on “good governance”, “democratic governance”, or “governance reform” often lack conceptual clarity and contextualization.

In this research cluster, we conceptualize “governance” as a political space of contestation, in which more or less powerful actors continuously compete in order to advance key interests and ideas and translate them into state policies. Political authority, the rules of the game, and policy directions are constantly (re-)negotiated and challenged in local, national, regional, and global decision-making arenas. This is a multi-scalar process.

The cluster’s objective is to shed empirical light on contested forms of governance in areas that often defy Eurocentric models. Contestations are generally shaped by state and non-state actors, but also beyond the state and in transregional constellations. It is these actors who continuously compete, dispute, and collide, who set the stage for political transformation. For instance, recent developments in peace and conflict research has drawn attention to the role of non-state armed actors and their interaction with the state and other societal actors in the configuration of political order and the provision of public services amid violence.

Our research in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East seeks to tackle the questions of who induces change, where, why and how, from different comparative and contextually-grounded perspectives. It seeks to discern institutional and normative change – both over time and space; it aims at tracing contestations over natural resources and extractive rents; it sets out to examine which power asymmetries are at the base of particular governance strategies; and it attempts to understand who and what induces or limits institutional reform and policy innovation.

Lead: Alke Jenss


Current Projects

DFG Emmy Noether Junior Research Group: Renewable Energies, Renewed Authoritarianisms? The Political Economy of Solar Energy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), 2022-2028 (Benjamin Schuetze)

together with the Cluster on Conflicts and Fragility: Postcolonial Hierarchies in Peace & Conflict, BMBF, 2022-2026. (Alke Jenss, Fabricio Rodríguez, Viviana García Pinzón)

Promises of Democratic Connection? The Politics of Energy Infrastructures, Thyssen Foundation, 2022-2024. (Alke Jenss, Alessandra Bonci; associated: Benjamin Schuetze)

Centre d’Excellence de Gouvernance Locale en Afrique (CEGLA) (Helga Dickow)


Incoming and outgoing Fellows

Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Inés Durán Matute, (IRGAC International Research Group on Authoritarian Capitalism), October to December 2021, May to July 2022

Postdoctoral fellows Dr. Hugo Fanton and Dr. Aysegül Can (IRGAC International Research Group on Authoritarian Capitalism), October 2020 to February 2021

Visiting fellowships Alke Jenss at CIEP, University of Costa Rica, February/March 2023, and University del Rosario, Bogotá, March 2020



Publications (selection)

Alke Jenss & Benjamin Schuetze (2023): Prefiguring Politics. Transregional energy infrastructures as a lens for the study of authoritarian practices. Globalizations, online first, OPEN ACCESS.

Alke Jenss (2023): Selective Security in the War on Drugs: The Coloniality of State Power in Colombia and Mexico.  Rowman & Littlefield.

Alke Jenss (2023): Everyday Scalar Politics: Navigating Insecurity in the Competitive City. In: Urban Geography. Online First.

Viviana García Pinzón (2023): Containing Violence in El Salvador: Community Organization, Transnational Networks and State–Society Relations. In: Development and Change, (54)1: 192-219. OPEN ACCESS.

Rosa Lehmann & Alke Jenss (2022): Scalar Struggles. The Selectivity of Development Governance in Mexico(link is external). In: Latin American Research Review 57(4), 848-866. Online First, OPEN ACCESS.

Valeria Guarneros & Alke Jenss (2022): Transformed Security Practices: Informalization in the Production of Hegemony and Place(link is external). In: International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 46(4): 614-630.

Benjamin Schuetze & Julia Gurol (2022): Infrastructuring Authoritarian Power: Arab-Chinese Transregional Collaboration beyond the State(link is external), International Quarterly for Asian Studies, 53(2), 231-249, OPEN ACCESS.

Rodríguez, Fabricio (2022): Entre la incertidumbre y el hambre. La guerra en Ucrania y su relación con la energía y los alimentos. Foreign Affairs Latinoamérica 22(4), pp.11-17. is external)

Julia Gurol & Fabricio Rodríguez (2022): “Contingent power extension” and regional (dis)integration: China’s Belt and Road Initiative and its consequences for the EU, Asia Europe Journal. Online first. is external) OPEN ACCESS.

David Tyfield & Fabricio Rodríguez (2022): China beyond China. Infrastructuring and Ecologising a New Global Hegemony? Editorial. International Quarterly for Asian Studies 53(2), pp. 171-180. is external) OPEN ACCESS.

David Tyfield & Fabricio Rodríguez (2022): Against and For China’s Ecological Civilisation: Economising the Bios or “Life-ising” Transition? International Quarterly for Asian Studies 53(3), pp. 441-469. is external) OPEN ACCESS.

Anran Luo & Fabricio Rodríguez & Sina Leipold (2022): Explanations of the political gridlock behind international circular economy: Waste Ban narratives in the China-EU cooperation. Ambio. is external) OPEN ACCESS.

Rodríguez, Fabricio; Rüland, Jürgen (2022): Cooperative counter-hegemony, interregionalism and ‘diminished multilateralism’: the Belt and Road Initiative and China’s relations with Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), Journal of International Relations and Development, pp. 476-496. (link is external) OPEN ACCESS.

Viviana García Pinzón & Luis Fernando Trejos (2021): Las tramas del conflicto prolongado en la frontera colombo-venezolana: un análisis de las violencias y actores armados en el contexto del posacuerdo de paz. Colombia Internacional, 105 (2021): 89-115.

Viviana García Pinzón & J. Mantilla (2021). Contested borders: organized crime, governance, and bordering practices in Colombia-Venezuela borderlands. Trends Organ Crim 24, 265–281.

Luis Fernando Trejos & Á. Tuirán & A Rodríguez & Viviana García Pinzón (2021): Debilidad institucional, seguridad y migración en la frontera Colombo-Venezolana. Barranquilla: Universidad del Norte.

Alke Jenss (2021): Gobernanza de la Expansión: Infraestructuras transnacionales de energía en América Latina(link is external). In: Perfiles Latinoamericanos, 29 (58): 1-27. OPEN ACCESS.

Alke Jenss, Lehmann, Rosa & Boos, Tobias (2021): Sozialstrukturen in Lateinamerika. Dynamiken und Akteure im 21. Jahrhundert.(link is external) Springer VS.

Bregje Van Veelen, Evelina Gambino, Alke Jenss et al. (2021): Interventions on the Democracy of Infrastructures(link is external). In: Political Geography, 87 (102378).

Alke Jenss & Benjamin Schuetze (2021): Rethinking Authoritarian Power: The Logistics Space and Authoritarian Practices in and between Secondary Port Cities of the Global South. In: International Studies Quarterly 65(1), 82-94 OPEN ACCESS.

Alke Jenss (2021): Disrupting the Rhythms of Violence. In: Global Policy, 12 (52), 67-77. OPEN ACCESS.

Benjamin Schuetze (2021) Author exchange with Dana El Kurd in ‘Democracy and Autocracy: The International Aftermath of the Arab Spring’, American Political Science Association (APSA), 19 (2), pp. 26-31.

Benjamin Schuetze (2021) The Socio-Economic Effects of Solar Energy in the Middle East and North Africa, Amman: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Climate and Energy Project (English & Arabic).

Viviana García Pinzón & E. Rojas Ospina (2020): La política de seguridad en El Salvador: la construcción del enemigo y sus efectos en la violencia y el orden social. Revista de Estudios Sociales 73 (2020): 96-108. is external)

Benjamin Schuetze (2020): Essential Readings on 'Democracy Promotion’, Jadaliyya, Middle East Studies Pedagogy Initiative (MESPI), July 21.

Alke Jenss (2020): Global Flows and Everyday Violence in Urban Space: The Port-City of Buenaventura, Colombia(link is external). In: Political Geography, 102113. OPEN ACCESS.

Schütze, Benjamin (2019) Promoting Democracy, Reinforcing Authoritarianism: US and European Policy in Jordan (link is external). Cambridge University Press.



In the media (selection)

Ana Helena Palermo Kuss & Fabricio Rodríguez (03.01.2023): Brasilien nach dem Regierungswechsel: Welthandel oder Klimaschutz?

Benjamin Schuetze (18.12.2022): ‘Es sind verschiedene Energiewenden möglich:‘ Dezentrale Versorgungsstrukturen und geringere Machtgefälle derzeit nur Theorie. Interview mit Radio Dreyeckland.

Benjamin Schuetze (27.06.2022): ‚Renewable Energies, Renewed Authoritarianisms? The Political Economy of Solar Energy in the MENA’, online seminar, Research Institute for Sustainability (RIFS).

Alke Jenss (18.05.2021): Aufstand der Vielen. Trotz massiver Repression bringen die Protestierenden in Kolumbien Staat und Militär in Bedrängnis.

Benjamin Schuetze (01.06.2021): Authoritarianism in Jordan, a transnational production. Interview with author on NORIA research.

Benjamin Schuetze (01.12.2021): Debatte in Gang setzen: Die Universität Freiburg hat im Oktober die Junge Akademie für Nachhaltigkeit aus der Taufe gehoben, DUZ: Magazin für Wissenschaft und Gesellschaft, Interview.

Benjamin Schuetze (10.04.2020): Interview with author in Jadaliyya’s New Texts Out Now (NEWTON) section.

Alke Jenss (20.10.2020): Polizeireviere in Büchereien. In Kolumbien gehört Gewalt schon lange zur staatlichen Strategie der Kontrolle. In der Pandemie verschärft sich die Lage – aber auch der Protest.


Consultancies & Impact

Benjamin Schuetze & Eckart Woertz (2022): Unlikely Companions of Energy Transitions? Opportunities and Challenges of Triangular Cooperation between the EU and the GCC in the Middle East and North Africa, policy brief for EUROMESCO/IEMED, presented to EU DG NEAR.

Benjamin Schuetze (2022): Energy policy related challenges for collaboration with African states, 37th Africa discussion group, German Ministry of Foreign Affairs (AA).


Recent public lectures and talks (selection)

Alke Jenss (27.01.2023): Paramilitarismo y lo Urbano en Santa Marta, Caribe. Seminario: ¿Hacia la Paz total en Colombia? La trayectoria de enfrentamientos y acercamientos entre grupos armados y el Estado en la creación de una seguridad territorial. Latin America Institute, FU Berlin.

Fabricio Rodríguez (07.07.2022): Guerra en Ucrania: Repercusiones en China y América Latina. Red China y América Latina: Enfoques Multidisciplinarios (REDCAEM).

Alke Jenss (20.12.2022): Podiumsdiskussion. La Paz en Colombia. CAPAZ and Diocesis Stuttgart-Rottenburg.


Cluster events (most recent)

Workshop The Energy Infrastructures – Democracy Tension, Freiburg, 16.-17.03.2023.

ThinkLab and General Assembly of the Postcolonial Hierarchies in Peace and Conflict Studies Network. 04.-6.10.2022.

Plataforma para el Diálogo: Autoritarismo en Democracia, perspectivas transregionales e históricas sobre espacios en disputa. (funded and hosted by CALAS Guadalajara), 19.-23.09.2022.

Transnational dimensions of energy transitions: Politics and inequalities in and beyond Latin America and West Asia-North Africa (WANA), hybrid workshop at FRIAS, Freiburg, 02.‑03.06.2022. Organized by FRIAS, HCIAS, ABI.

FRIAS Junior Researcher Conference on Authoritarianism & Democracies, Freiburg, 17.03.2021-19.03.2021.

DAAD Summer School Contested Governance (first round: 02.-28.09.2019, second round: September 2020).

EUCOR Cross-border Workshop Series: The trouble with the state. Boundaries and Networks in Africa (2021)

Interdisciplinary Workshop: Infastructures and Territory 25.-26. März 2019, Arnold-Bergstraesser-Institut Freiburg, with Urban Studies, Basel University;
Keynote: Prof. Dr. Laleh Khalili (Department of Politics and International Studies, SOAS London) Tankers, Tycoons, and Radical Transformations. The Making of Modern Regimes of Law, Labour, and Finance.


Past projects

Authoritarian Urbanism Working Group with Dr. Hugo Fanton, Dr. Aysegül Can, and Dr. Khanyile Mlotshwa, 2020-2021.

Making Infrastructures Global? Design and Governance of Infrastructural Expansion in the Global South (EUCOR Project, Benjamin Schütze & Alke Jenss, ABI, with Prof. Dr. Kenny Cupers & Dr. Maren Larsen, Urban Studies Department, University of Basel) 2020-2022

DAAD Summer School Contested Governance 2019-2021

China´s extractive power in Latin America? Comparative Perspectives on Brazil and Peru

Conflict Transformation Initiatives by Religious Actors: A Comparative Study of Indonesia and the Philippines

Established Interests in Changing Environments? The Role of Political-Economic Elites in Southeast Asia

Restoration and reclamation of mined-out areas and other degraded lands for biodiversity conservation and rural development in Burkina Faso

The History of the West-German Intelligence Service (BND) between 1945 and 1968