Researching the politics of development



Taking ideas seriously within political settlements analysis

Working paper 95

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Tom Lavers
Recent work on the politics of development and, in particular, the role of political settlements in shaping development outcomes has provided important insights into the types of power relations that can contribute to developmental successes and failures. However, important questions remain regarding how political settlements are formed and maintained over time, as well as the extent to which political settlements determine particular policy choices in particular policy domains. This paper considers the role that ideas can play in studying the politics of development and the extent to which an analytical focus on ideas might address some of these gaps. Work on political settlements has, for the most part, emphasised explanations based on material interests, paying little to no attention to the causal role of ideas. This paper first examines the compatibility between Khan’s political settlements framework and theoretical work on ideas, arguing that taking ideas seriously requires questioning some of the core ontological assumptions underpinning the political settlements framework. The paper then proposes an adapted framework that seeks to respond to this challenge and, drawing on three of ESID’s comparative projects, highlights how a focus on ideas can deepen our understanding of the dynamics within particular political settlements and policy domains.