Researching the politics of development



Who should get what, how and why? DFID and the transnational politics of social cash transfers

Working paper 131

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Sam Hickey
Jeremy Seekings
The proliferation of social cash transfers (SCTs) across much of Africa has resulted from interactions between international organisations – including both UN and related organisations, the donor agencies of governments in the global North, and international non-government organisations – and national governments. SCTs were central to the social protection agenda taken up by almost every international organisation since about 2000. In this paper we employ Tania Li’s framework on how development ideas travel, to understand the political economic context for the rising enthusiasm for SCTs, the ideational contestation over these, and the strategies of governmentality deployed to ‘render technical’ problems of poverty and vulnerability. Crucially, we show how international organisations developed diverse approaches to SCTs in terms of who should get what, how and why. Through a close analysis of the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), we show that this process of policy transfer was shaped by the internal workings of the ‘aidworld’. In part because SCTs were subject to contestation within and between organisations, organisations tended to render political choices as technical ones. DFID was unusual in acknowledging that the process of introducing SCTs in any particular country was a political one, but even DFID viewed SCTs as a largely technical issue, limiting its efficacy in most African countries.