Donor agencies and the production of political settlements research.

Stream: Panel 92 - International Relations: Assessing Change in Multilateral and Bilateral Developing Financing
Date: Wednesday, 28 September 2016
Time: 1.30 pm – 3.00 pm


The recognition, at least at the conceptual level, that ‘politics matters’ and that blueprint development models cannot be imposed from outside has led donors to focus on the underlying mechanisms of state-building in the places they work. This has entailed an increased focus on domestic actors, processes, and ‘drivers of change’ with the aim of better tailoring development programs to local context. The rise of political settlements analysis has emerged as part of this attempt to work ‘with the grain’ of local politics, and forms a partial response to the broader criticism that Western donors try to create idealised Western models with insufficient regard for ‘actually existing development’ processes already in place (Duffield 2002; Menkhaus 2006/7). As a research agenda that is now a key priority for major development actors – particularly the United Kingdom’s DFID, which sponsors the Political Settlements Research Programme (PSRP), but also the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the World Bank, and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) – the scope and normative predispositions of the political settlements research agenda are the subject of this piece. It asks whether and how political settlements researchers can rise to the challenge of altering the spatial boundaries implicit to the framework, and incorporate transnational drivers of societal division and conflict as part of their analytical scope. At a start, this requires a critical reckoning with the ways in which practices at ‘home’ are implicated in the political settlements ‘abroad’ that the research seeks to transform.


Sarah Phillips (Presenter), University of Sydney
Sarah Phillips is a Senior Lecturer and an ARC DECRA holder at the University of Sydney.