The Politics of Social and Legal Citizenship: Promoting and Protecting the Rights of the Poor?

Although not as extensive as the literature on economic development, a growing number of studies have examined the role of politics in shaping the provision of services aimed at protecting and promoting the social and civic rights of marginal groups. This has been particularly the case with social service provision, whether directed at raising human capabilities in general terms (e.g. Carbone 2009a; Evans 2010; Nelson 2007), or in relation to specific sectors such as education (e.g. Grindle 2004; Kosack 2012; Stasavage 2005) and the fast-growing literature on the politics of social protection (e.g. Graham 1995, 2002; Hickey 2009; Nelson 2003). The literature has become increasingly nuanced and also divided in recent years, particularly concerning whether processes of democratization help or hinder the delivery of services, between bottom-up versus up-down forms of accountability and concerning the centralized or decentralized shape of the state. Our systematic reviews of the available evidence engage directly with these debates and show the need to move beyond often-redundant conflicts between apparently polarized positions by drawing attention to the deeper forms of politics and power relations at play.

Our chapters strongly support the general thesis that politics closely shapes the effectiveness and quality of service delivery and social protection. Claire Mcloughlin reviews eight successful cases of delivery drawn from seven countries, namely Bangladesh, Rwanda, Ghana, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Malawi, and Peru, and across four sectors: maternal and child health, basic education, rural roads, and agricultural marketing. The chapter traces the main characteristics of the political environment for these cases at three levels, from the national political context through the politics of sector policymaking to the micro politics of implementation, and links them directly to levels of performance and outcomes at the point of delivery. In their chapter, Armando Barrientos and Sony Pellissery examine the significance of politics in the rise of social assistance programmes in developing countries in the last decade, and argue that politics has been crucial to the adoption, design, and implementation of social assistance programmes. They develop a framework for distinguishing the different dimensions of influence, including the role of democracy, the bureaucracy, and civil society, which is then applied to the development of social assistance in India, Brazil, and South Africa. This comparative perspective is particularly helpful in exemplifying the framework from different contextual viewpoints, and contributes new insights into the specific forms of politics that shape social assistance.

Both chapters join broader calls for a move beyond the presumption that civil society and bottom-up pressures can play a critical role in improving the responsiveness and accountability of governments with regards to service delivery (e.g. World Bank 2003). So, although the role of civil society and an active media was found to be important in catalysing state responsiveness in some cases, the available evidence on the political drivers of social provisioning strongly suggests that the often unqualified support for bottom-up pressures is misplaced, both in terms of overlooking the role of more top- down pressures and for obscuring the forms of popular politics that may make a difference. In terms of the latter, Mcloughlin suggests that pro-poor service provision might occur where there are forms of social accountability that draw on moral norms of reciprocity, are locally grounded, and build on a culture of participation, rather than being driven by the more professionalized and technical worlds of NGOs promoting particular social accountability mechanisms or 'widgets' (Joshi and Houtzager 2012). Importantly, both chapters also point to the significance of more political and top-down drivers of performance. For Mcloughlin, strong top-down authority and leadership are critical in ensuring that policies are carried through from their adoption to actual implementation. Barrientos and Pellissery observe that the expansion of social assistance from small privileged groups to broader target populations in line with universal principles, does not emerge easily, and often involves intense political struggles. Whereas civil society actors played a key role in expanding social assistance in India, it was political parties who were the critical actors in Brazil and South Africa, a finding which echoes the wider calls to look beyond civil to political society when it comes to the politics of poverty reduction (Houtzager and Moore 2003; Hickey and Bracking 2005). Again, coalitions between such actors may be required to realign policy adoption and implementation in favour of more marginal social groups (Leftwich 2010). Such findings are closely aligned with the growing evidence that citizens may lack the power to alter the incentives which shape the capacity and commitment of governments and elites at both national and local levels (Booth 2005), and support the growing emphasis on identifying ways of promoting different modes of accountability (e.g. Joshi and Houtzager 2012; Deveranjan et al. 2011).

This debate overlaps to some extent with increasingly contentious discussions concerning the links between democracy and the delivery of social services. For example, Mcloughlin draws on recent research into the politics of improving maternal health services and outcomes in Rwanda to suggest that a powerful and ideologically committed political party or leader may be able to enforce high-quality forms of service delivery even in the context of limited democratization and bottom-up pressures. This finding is at odds with much of the literature on the politics of service delivery which suggests that democratization is a critical factor here. However, this literature is itself increasingly split between those who associate the increased regularity of elections with increased levels of social provisioning (e.g. Stasavage 2005) and those who point out that political party competition can reduce the extent to which the voice of marginal groups is influential over public policy, and also that political competition in many poor countries has had the damaging effect of driving up the intensity of clientelist forms of politics (Carbone 2009b). Within such contexts, and in line with the chapter from Mosley in this collection, it may be that increased social provisioning reflects the power of poor groups to present a credible threat to leaders and/ or form a coalition with elites (Kosack 2012). Our contributors find evidence to support both sides of this debate. For example, Mcloughlin notes that political party competition has driven up provision for child and maternal health in Bangladesh, as successive ruling parties attempt to scale up provision in order to outperform their opponents. However, the downside is that increased party control over the distribution of resources has increasingly politicized service delivery at local levels and reduced the extent to which the bureaucracy is delivering public goods on an impersonal or universal basis. What may matter most here are the particular constituencies that a regime is seeking to woo. Levels of 'political will' for primary education in Ghana, for example, have been shown to fluctuate over time according to the extent to which the ruling party has been dependent on the support of the poor, and the extent to which the interests of the poor were articulated by a political entrepreneur (Kosack 2012). Similarly, Mcloughlin shows that agricultural policies gained particular political salience in Ghana and Malawi under regimes that courted the support of farmers, and continued to be a central source of state legitimacy where they subsequently attracted a large basis of citizen support.

This evidence therefore tends to suggest that discussions over top-down and bottom-up forms of accountability and between democratic and more 'authoritarian' forms of rule are hinged in the wrong place. What matters here is not so much the presence of formal political institutions such as parties or elections but rather the underlying forms of politics and power relations which shape their operation, driven to some extent by calculations around political returns that are made by political actors at all levels. This perspective is gaining ground (e.g. Kj«r and Therkildsen 2012), and is increasingly summarized in the language of 'political settlements', a concept we return to below in more depth.

The final issue covered with regards to how politics shapes the delivery of services and social protection concerns the structural form that the state takes, and particularly the degree of decentralization. Barrientos and Pellissery argue that the level of decentralization does not appear critical in explaining the success or failure of social assistance programmes, a finding supported by other work on the politics of social protection (Hickey 2009). In some countries, like India and Brazil, decentralization offered great promise whereas in South Africa it was the centralization of authority that was associated with numerous advantages for the programmes there. This observation means that social protection programmes are likely to be influenced by the particular context in which they emerge and therefore likely to produce dynamics that are difficult to compare across time and space.

Although the majority of the literature in this field to date has focused on how politics shapes social provisioning, increased attention has started to fall on the political impacts of social provisioning, including on state capacity and legitimacy (Bukenya 2013; van de Walle and Scott 2011) and the broader social contract (Barrientos 2013; Hickey 2009). The importance of this new agenda emerges strongly from our chapters here, and forms a central part of the conceptual framework that we propose at the end of the chapter. For example, Barrientos and Pellissery show how long-established programmes of social assistance have a feedback effect on politics at both local and national levels. At the national level for instance, incumbent politicians and parties obtain significant political support as a result of introducing such programmes. Similarly, some political elites at the local levels have managed to manipulate the programmes to serve their political interests, suggesting that such programmes may in some contexts deepen regressive forms of politics rather than the more progressive building of social contracts.

A rich territory for exploring the forms of politics that underlie and help to shape the rules of the game concerns the rule of law, which Deval Desai and Michael Woolcock define as a system that informs people of what to expect from others through durable and enforceable rules applying equally to all constituent members of a given juridical space. In their thorough examination of 'the politics of what works' with regard to the rule- of-law interventions in developing countries, Desai and Woolcock explore how contests among elites and between elites and end users shape institutions through a contested, iterative, and dynamic process that, in any given setting, is likely to yield an idiosyncratic outcome borne of a unique hybrid mix of local and external inputs. They present the politics of the rule of law as deeply complex and inherently multi-directional: elites, for example, certainly use the rule of law, but legalization is powerful and can be used in unpredictable ways against elites by other elite groups or by non-elite actors. They also argue that the political salience, legitimacy, and action-ability of such understandings must be negotiated anew in each setting, between different epistemic groups (professions, users, policymakers) and across divides of gender, ideology, and class. More broadly, their chapter reveals something of the tension between the workings of political settlements and how the rule of law becomes established. One of the key insights from recent work on political settlements (Khan 2010) and limited access orders (North et al. 2009) that we discuss in more detail below, is that elites will only agree to the establishment and functioning of institutions, including and perhaps particularly around the rule of law, if such institutions ensure the distribution of resources and status in their direction. To the extent that the rule of law can act as a constraint to elite behaviour, then elites may have good reasons to restrict the establishment of the rule of law and particularly its progressive roll out beyond the limits of the initial elite bargain (cf. North et al. 2009). Much of this interplay between the rule of law and the type of political settlement will be determined within specific contexts, and involve the specific interests and ideas that elites have around the rule of law systems, and cannot be collapsed into a deterministic or ex ante model.

Our chapters in this section offer important and innovative suggestions concerning the role of future research in the field. As Mcloughlin notes, the widespread consensus that politics matters for effective service provision needs to be matched by studies that systematically integrate political analysis to produce robust evidence that can inform policy and practice. Similarly, Desai and Woolcock find that 'more research' as conventionally understood will only yield marginal improvements in conceptual clarity and to our cumulative empirical knowledge of the dynamic relationship between rule of law, politics, and development. Rather, they offer concrete ideas on how the rigour and relevance of rule-of-law interventions from both an analytical and practical standpoint could be enhanced. First, they propose the need, by scholars and practitioners, to invest in richer data-gathering exercises, in empirical tasks that de-homogenize people based on conceptual as well as material differences. Secondly, they suggest that more investment in the monitoring and real-time evaluation of rule-of-law interventions is needed. Third, and cognizant of the fact that rule of law reform is inherently a site of contestation among social groupings, they recommend that greater effort needs to be extended to invigorating programmes by supporting the construction of spaces for public engagement and discursive participation.

 
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