Researching the politics of development



The Politics of Inclusive Development: Interrogating the Evidence

13 January 2015.
Among those engaged in policy and planning of development, there is growing recognition that politics and institutions matter for inclusive development. However, the specific ways in which they shape possibilities, across different types and forms of development, and in different contexts, remains poorly understood. What is needed is guidance about what could be done to make political contexts more responsive to inclusive development.
The newly published book, The Politics of Inclusive Development: Interrogating the Evidence, edited by ESID Research Directors, Sam Hickey and Kunal Sen, and Research Associate, Badru Bukenya, is ESID’s first major academic collection. It draws on a large number of studies provided by ESID’s multidisciplinary, multinational network of partners. The research helps to make the understanding of development more politically savvy, by developing the theoretical apparatus and knowledge base to support better informed development policy and practice.
Highly topical, while also grounded in social science theory, the book provides:

  • A detailed, original theoretical framework that shapes ESID’s work and that of other researchers.
  • A systematic review of the evidence about the politics of ‘what works’ in achieving inclusive development.
  • A set of clear, concise propositions about how to advance such knowledge in a policy-relevant fashion.


Rapidly changing context

The context for development has been changing rapidly. The geography of wealth is shifting east to Asia; Sub-Saharan Africa is tipped as a future growth pole; and most of the world’s extremely poor people now live in middle-income countries. Unprecedented connectivity raises the prospects of improved transparency – and perhaps even accountability – of public and private actors.
On the other hand, economic inequality is reaching unimaginable levels, with economic power and political influence concentrated in the hands of small numbers of supranational mega-billionaires. Meanwhile, the global capitalist system that produces and distributes wealth is environmentally unsustainable, and will have to be transformed if future generations are to have the chance of a ‘good life’.

Focus on change and dynamics

The book seeks to understand how dynamic political settlements shape patterns of accumulation, social provisioning and social recognition as they impact on state capacity and elite commitment to development. It examines how politics shapes development across multiple dimensions, including through growth, natural resource governance, poverty reduction, service delivery, social protection, justice systems, the empowerment of marginalised groups, and the role of both traditional and non-traditional donors. It makes a significant theoretical contribution by shifting the focus from statics and equilibria to change and dynamics.
Building on the work of Douglass North, Daron Acemoglu, James Robinson and Mushtaq Khan, the book’s analytical framework integrates new elements: the role of ideas (alongside incentives); the possibility of popular agency; the influence of transnational factors; the opportunity for emerging coalitions to promote inclusive development; and the dynamics of political regime change in growth processes. Beneath this framework lies the constant interplay of politics and power relations, between those seeking to maintain the status quo and new actors seeking change.

New conceptual approaches

The book identifies implications for policy and practice. Universal prescriptions of democracy, decentralisation, strengthening the demand side, and so on, are seen to be double-edged – they may weaken rather than strengthen development outcomes. It critiques ‘one size fits all’, but does not shift to the other extreme of ‘context is everything’. It identifies a typology of political conditions that will seek to generate type-specific findings to stand alongside case-specific conclusions.
The book’s originality derives not only from the wide scope of its case-study material, but also from the new conceptual approaches it offers for thinking about the politics of inclusive development, and the innovative and practical suggestions for donors, policy makers, and practitioners that flow from this.
For more details, visit the publisher’s website.