Researching the politics of development



Pockets of effectiveness: The contributions of critical political economy and state theory

Working paper 118

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Giles Mohan
The pockets of effectiveness (PoEs) debates and political settlements literature are rooted in particular forms of political economy analysis. At one level, this is a positive contribution to the mainstream development policy literature, and allows us to characterise political systems and their power relations, as well as forcing us to pay close attention to the dynamics of state institutions. Yet, these literatures are disconnected from a tradition of more critical political economy analysis and state theory. This brief review is a first attempt to connect these bodies of theory, largely in an African context. We find some promising new (and old) avenues of inquiry to connect critical political economy to PoE work, largely in terms of various meso-level theories of how states function, which move us away from all-encompassing meta-theories of the state. Such meso-level theories enable us to theorise the more fine-grained and developmentally positive institutions that constitute PoEs, since much of the meta-theory tends to be both broad brush as well as causally pessimistic, insofar as African states are rarely seen to engender positive developmental outcomes. These meso-level theories can also be more easily elaborated methodologically, which is vital, since most of the claims about state capacity and function require contextual empirical analysis.