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

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posted on 2023-05-26, 05:49 authored by Lloyd, BT
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.S.-Iraqi 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.


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