Political Commitment: From Incentives to Ideas?

As suggested earlier, the ability of the political-settlements approach to generate clear insights into the emergence of elite commitment is more limited.[1] Although the role of interests in shaping elite behaviour is clearly important, our sense is that to position development as purely a survival strategy for elites to maintain regime continuity in the face of elite competition and/or the threat of disturbance from popular groups (Henley 2014; Whitfield and Therkildsen 2011) is too limited a perspective. Barrientos and Pellissery argue strongly that to focus only on the incentives that elites respond to is much too limited: social contracts and pacts, key events, ideology, and knowledge are important too. In particular, our authors suggest that ideas also matter a great deal here, including the different ideological standpoints of regimes concerning the governance of natural resource governance, with more social democratic regimes willing to both exert stronger control over capital and consider linking natural resource extraction more clearly to social provisioning than more market-friendly, conservative regimes (Bebbington, also Mosley). How resources should be accumulated and redistributed is thus shaped by particular ideas around development that are linked to the maintenance of particular coalitions but which are not reducible to them. Nazneen and Mahmud similarly emphasize the extent to which discourses of women's right and gender equity, often drawn from transnational debates and mobilized in partnership with global civil society actors and agencies, have been influential in securing women's empowerment. For Mohan, the capacity of elites to govern their relationships with external forces may depend on their vision of the national interest as well as any bargaining power derived from more material sources.

  • [1] Political commitment has proved a tricky concept to define. In a narrow sense, oneapproach is to simply define it as 'the extent of committed support among key decision makersfor a particular policy solution to a particular problem' (Post et al. 2010, p. 569). However, thisremains an under-theorized and loosely defined concept, with our studies unable to draw outof the existing literature a strong sense of the underlying drivers of this commitment and howit becomes sustained over time.
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