Global Development Institute Blog

We are delighted to announce a flagship international conference convened by Effective States and Inclusive Development research centre, Global Development Institute, The University of Manchester.

Confirmed plenary speakers include world leading experts Anne Marie Goetz (New York), Merilee Grindle (Harvard), Lant Pritchett (Harvard), James Robinson (Chicago), Prerna Singh (Brown) and E. Gyimah-Boadi (Afrobarometer, Ghana).

Pratap Mehta (Ashoka), Dan Slater (Michigan ),  are to be confirmed.

From Politics to Power? Rethinking the politics of development 9-11 September 2019, Manchester, UK

Politics was finally brought into the mainstream of international development around a decade ago. However, whilst most development academics and agencies accept that politics plays a central role in shaping development in the Global South, the incorporation of politics within development theory and practice remains partial and subject to backsliding. This international conference will take stock of what work on the politics of development has achieved to date, identify further opportunities for incorporating the full range of scholarship on politics and development, and set out future research agendas for the field.

This flagship conference will showcase the findings of the Effective States and Inclusive Development research centre (ESID), which has been researching the politics of state capacity and elite commitment to development since 2011. ESID findings will be presented and debated alongside the much broader range of research into the politics of development.

Key issues and questions to be explored will include:

1. Rethinking the politics of development

The move beyond  ‘institutions matter’ to ‘politics matters’ has brought forth new conceptual approaches – ‘political settlements’, ‘limited access orders’, ‘elite bargaining’ – that have shed new light on how trajectories of development unfold, over both the long and short term. However, important theoretical questions have been left unexplored: What is the relationship between long-run institutional legacies and contemporary configurations of power? Does the configuration of power amongst elites offer a better predictor of development progress than regime type? Can governance become effective and inclusive at the same time? And if ‘power’ constitutes the new frontier of politics and development thinking, which understandings of power can help capture the complex interplay of ideas, interests and institutions?

2. State capacity, competitive politics and Twenty-First Century developmental states

Processes of state building, democratisation and citizenship-formation in developing countries remain highly contested. The interactions of these political processes with persistent inequalities are generating new problems and responses in developing countries, including the rise of authoritarian forms of populism and new efforts to control unruly urban populations. Old debates around the potential trade-offs between political and socio-economic rights have re-emerged, alongside a resurgence of interest in state capacity and performance. As different varieties of capitalism unfold in the Global South what new types of political order are emerging to sustain them, based on which ideologies of development? What types of development trajectories are possible for different types of countries at the current juncture, and what forms of politics might be required to support these? What kinds of deals are required to achieve and sustain growth? Does the renewed attention to industrial policy suggest a need to focus on state-business relations, or should the focus shift to building the broader coalitions capable of promoting more sustainable and alternative development trajectories?

3. Taking the transnational politics of development seriously

In a globalised world, how can governments regulate global value chains in a range of policy domains, in ways that protect the national interest and promote inclusive forms of development? How is the global political economy of major infrastructure investments playing out, and with what implications for national governance and the local politics of social justice? What are the implications for state sovereignty and democracy of rising levels of indebtedness, including to China? How do global policy agendas travel to and become translated within different political contexts? How can new theories of politics and development join with transnational forms of political economy analysis to provide clearer insights into these processes?

4. New sites of progressive politics?

The changing nature of politics within developing countries is strongly shaped by rising inequalities, nascent processes of class formation, urbanization and demographic shifts. New sites of citizenship and progressive politics may be opening within the realm of distribution, involving collective bargaining and co-production around service delivery and the local politics of social protection. We now know more about how national politics shapes social provisioning, but how does this play out at sub-national level and how are new forms of redistribution themselves reshaping the politics of citizenship and state-society relations? What can be learned from the emergence of hybrid forms of governance in urban areas, often centred on contestations and negotiations over land, housing and service delivery?

The politics of recognition has opened-up space for minority and marginal groups but moving from inclusion to influence remains a challenge. We need to know more about the strategies that marginal groups such as women can deploy to gain substantive forms of representation. Contradictory concerns abound: how can the advances made for women and minority groups be protected from patriarchal and populist backlashes whilst ensuring that a politics of difference doesn’t undermine the universal values required for the public realm to flourish?

5. From thinking to working politically?

What the turn to politics means for development policy and practice remains unclear. For example, we now know a lot more about the politics of local governance, including from randomised control trials on issues of corruption and accountability, and there is widespread acceptance of the need to adopt iterative, problem-driven approaches to solving governance problems. However, we know very little about how these relate to or work within different types of political context: how these might different types of context shape the success or failure of particular approaches to governance or ‘doing development differently’?

Given the institutional and ideological constraints within aid agencies, does it make sense to encourage the ‘anti-politics machine’ to ‘think and work politically’? Unsure as to how to promote ‘good enough governance’, and driven by concerns with authoritarian forms of populism closer to home, there is a temptation to double down on liberal values around ‘inclusive governance’ rather than seek an accommodation with alternative trajectories (e.g. China, South Korea) that emphasis the role of strong states. Is there a choice between building capacity or promoting inclusive forms of governance? How can these dual goals of SDG 16 be attained? Does the now flourishing agenda on taxation and domestic resource mobilisation offer a means through which both state capacity and more progressive social contracts can be built?  What role can bureaucratic pockets of effectiveness play in securing developmental forms of governance?


We are planning to run panels on the topics listed below. In order to construct a conversation between work on similar themes but from different perspectives, we are not inviting the submission of pre-figured/closed panels from any particular research effort (including ESID).

  • Rethinking the Politics of Development
  • Rethinking State Capacity
  • Developmental States
  • The Politics of Growth
  • The Politics of Industrialization and State-Business Relations
  • The Politics of Social Provisioning
  • Governing Cities
  • The Politics of Women’s Empowerment
  • Governing Natural Resources
  • Taxation, State Capacity and the Social Contract
  • From Thinking to Working Politically

Proposing a paper

Proposing a paper – Please submit your abstract by 15 March 2019.

We intend to run only a limited range of parallel sessions and are particularly keen to attract weighty contributions (e.g. comparative work, syntheses of collaborative research efforts) that offer significant opportunities for broader learning. We particularly welcome abstract submissions from the global south, and from policy actors as well as academic researchers.

We invite reflections on the above five key issues and questions and other themes and questions regarding the politics of development, insights into their potential resolution, and original thinking on where to take the next generation of research in this field. Papers should also primarily fit within the above panel topics.

Paper proposals should consist of:

  • a paper title
  • the name/s and email address/es of author/s
  • an abstract of fewer than 250 words

We intend to make decisions on which papers will be included by the end of March 2019, and to communicate these decisions to proposers at that point.


Academic convenors: Sam Hickey and Pritish Behuria

Conference organiser: Julia Brunt