Towards a universal political settlement concept: A response to Mushtaq Khan

Towards a universal political settlement concept: A response to Mushtaq Khan Mushtaq khan’s political settlement framework has been deservedly influential in recent studies of development, but it has always suffered from some areas of conceptual and methodological ambiguity.1 In a recent article for African Affairs, Khan seeks to clarify his framework as well as positioning it in relation to other influential work in the field.2 Here, Khan goes further than he has before in explaining how his political settlements framework differs from institutionalist approaches such as that of Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson,3 arguing persuasively that the same institutions, for example liberal democracy or formally free markets, will have very different effects depending on the distribution of organizational power in society.4 In addition, he explains how his framework can offer powerful insights to policymakers on such questions as the prevalence of corruption in developing countries, or the feasibility of state-led industrial policy. Such insights are unavailable, he thinks, to a political settlements approach which focuses on elite pacts or agreements, as is typical in contemporary peace and conflict studies. ‘[T]he elite pact definition of a political settlement should’, he argues, ‘be treated as a distinct approach that can provide complementary information, rather than essentially the same analytical framework articulated in a different language’.5 We find much to agree with in Khan’s recent contribution, not least the exegesis of how a focus on the distribution of organizational power can illuminate many issues of current concern to policymakers, including corruption, industrial policy, and the sustainability of formal peace agreements. At the same time, we believe that by defining a political settlement as the distribution of organizational power, Khan severs the concept from some of its commonsense roots as an agreement among conflicting parties. As we hope to show, not only does this contravene principles of sound concept formation, it also unnecessarily narrows the idea of a political settlement, diverting attention from alternative political settlement features with significant explanatory potential. Another aspect we find troubling is Khan’s equivocation between defining the political settlement on the one hand as a macro-political societal feature, and on the other hand as the distribution of organizational power relevant to the analysis of specific institutional and policy issues. The latter move, in our view, dilutes the concept, mixing it up with lower-level political dynamics, which, while relevant to the study of institutions, may be more-or-less autonomous of the political settlement. Part of the confusion stems, we believe, from Khan’s conflation of his own powerful explanatory framework with the very idea of a political settlement itself. As an alternative, we present a revised concept, rooted in everyday usage, capable of encompassing work in peace and conflict and development studies. By agreeing on this concept, we hope that diverse scholarly communities can engage in a mutually comprehensible dialogue about the analytical strengths and applications of their various frameworks. What is a political settlement? In his major 2010 paper, Khan argues that ‘a political settlement is a description of the “social order” that describes how a society solves the problem of violence and achieves a minimum level of political stability and economic performance for it to operate as a society’.6 At a ‘deeper level’, he argues, ‘a political settlement implies an institutional structure that creates benefits for different classes and groups in line with their relative power’ [emphasis added].7 This is necessary, he argues, for stable agreements among elites (the commonsensical view of political settlements), to be viable.8 Thus, a political settlement is, ‘an interdependent combination of a structure of power and institutions at the level of a society that is mutually “compatible” and also “sustainable” in terms of economic and political viability’.9 In his latest contribution, however, Khan distances himself from the emphasis on elite agreement. ‘A distribution of organizational power is a political settlement if it reproduces itself over time’ he says, and the political settlement is, ‘the distribution of organizational power’.10 ‘What matters in defining a sustainable political economy at the macro level is not an explicit, or even an implicit, agreement or pact between elites, but a stable distribution of power across organizations’.11 Further, ‘All that is required for the existence of a political settlement is that the system is able to reproduce, which by definition means that the levels of economic performance or political violence are sustainable in that system’.12 Khan’s shift from a conception in his 2010 paper of a political settlement that acknowledges and underpins the idea of an agreement to one, in his latest offering, that eschews it, is unfortunate, in our view. In his magnum opus of social scientific methods, John Gerring advises that social scientific concepts should ‘resonate with everyday usage’, and not unnecessarily disturb their ‘semantic field’,13 while Gary Goertz, in his extended treatment of the topic, argues that concepts should also ‘identify ontological attributes that play a key role in causal hypotheses, explanations, and mechanisms’.14 In everyday discourse, the idea of a ‘political settlement’ is usually juxtaposed with ongoing war, or perhaps with a ‘military victory’, in which one side is presumably thoroughly defeated. For example, in January 2017, an article on the BBC website claimed that the South Sudanese opposition wanted ‘a political settlement’.15 On 4 January 2013, a story appeared in The Guardian about Hezbollah calling for a ‘political settlement’ to the Syria conflict and the prospect of UN talks on the matter.16The New York Times last used the term in March 2011, in an editorial calling for a ‘negotiated political settlement’ in Afghanistan. It appears in a similar sense in a 1972 document of the same name, issued by the Ulster Government in response to the troubles in Northern Ireland.17 Arguably, the term is traceable at least as far back as the 1688 Glorious Revolution and the ‘Settlement’ between the King and British Parliament. Further insight can be gained by examining the term’s constituent parts. ‘Political’ is an adjective derived from the noun ‘politics’, for which the Oxford Living Dictionary supplies several definitions ranging from ‘The activities associated with the governance of a country or area, especially the debate between parties having power’ to ‘the principles relating to or inherent in a sphere or activity, especially when concerned with power and status’.18Merriam-Webster also provides several definitions, ranging from ‘the art or science of government’ through ‘competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership (as in a government)’ to ‘the total complex of relations between people living in society’.19 Naturally, the concept of politics also has a long career in political science. To give three influential examples: David Easton defined politics as ‘the authoritative allocation of values’;20 Harold Lasswell associated it with distributional issues, or ‘Who gets what, when and how’;21 and Adrian Leftwich argued that, ‘politics comprises all the activities of cooperation and conflict, within and between societies, whereby the human species goes about organizing the use, production and distribution of human, natural and other resources in the course of the production and reproduction of its biological and social life’.22 ‘Settlement’, meanwhile, is a noun that derives from the verb ‘to settle’. Etymologically, ‘settle’ derives from Middle English, to seat, bring to rest, come to rest—from the Old English setlan—from setl, seat. Merriam-Webster defines, ‘settle’, as, among other things, ‘to come to rest’, ‘to sink gradually or to the bottom’, ‘to become clear by the deposit of sediment or scum’, ‘to become fixed, resolved, or established,’ or ‘to become quiet or orderly.’ The Oxford Living Dictionary defines a ‘settlement’, in the first instance, as ‘An official agreement intended to resolve a dispute or conflict’.23 From these sources, we infer that popular usage understands a political settlement to be a settling down, resolution, or aversion of conflict, most likely the result of an agreement, perhaps official, presumably between the parties to conflict, but possibly also the result of a natural sedimentation or tacit acceptance, which creates a degree of fixity in who has political power, the institutions of government or governance, and or distributional issues. In Khan’s recent article, however, a ‘settlement’ occurs whenever there is some relative stability in macro-political arrangements. In his view, no agreement, not even an implicit one, is necessary. Parties can keep on fighting, provided there is no drastic alteration in the distribution of power. This seems consistent with an idea of a settlement as a natural or physical process of sedimentation, as contained in some of the dictionary definitions above. But it seems inconsistent with everyday understandings of what a settlement is in a human context. A settlement in a human context implies some degree of agency, even if heavily constrained. When I settle, for example in a divorce case, I implicitly agree to something, even if I don’t much like it. When I settle down into a rhythm of doing things, I accept the way things are without trying too hard to change them. Even if a settlement is imposed on me, if I give up fighting, I have accepted that it is better to stop fighting than to risk further injury. Indeed, even Khan seems to recognize this when he says that, ‘A stable organizational power structure…is a description of a complex outcome of contestation where powerful organizations accept the rents they receive as the best that is feasible, without disruptive mobilizations that attempt to change the distribution of power’ [emphasis added].24 Khan seems to be wrong, then, when he says that a country like Afghanistan may have a political settlement,25 since pretty much all the powerful factions within Afghanistan are trying to change the distribution of power, and using violence to do so.26 What one arguably has in Afghanistan is a stalemate, perpetuated by the heavy presence of international military assistance; there is not even a minimal agreement on rent distribution, let alone a common understanding or shared vision for society. In stalemates, stability is likely to be extremely tenuous, and thus not really settled at all. This is different from a settlement in which peace largely reigns but in which there is a commonly accepted level of skirmishing, raiding, or other forms of political violence around the margins; these are games within the rules, rather than attempts to change the rules. There is a tension, then, between ordinary language usage, which places the emphasis on ‘agreement’, and Khan, who, at least in his latest article, places it on reproducibility or durability. In our view, both are important. A political settlement is intended to be durable. An agreement that lasts only a day has probably been entered into in bad faith and is thus not really an agreement at all. And just as a chess match, even when ostensibly at stalemate, is not settled so long as both players continue pushing their pieces around the board, so a stalemate that lasted 20 years would not be a settlement if none of the parties agreed to the political arrangements governing them, and all were looking for the earliest opportunity for change. When it comes to identifying settlements, then, we might say that a political settlement can be taken to have existed ex post when there has been an agreement over a set of political arrangements associated with a distribution of power and benefits, that has lasted some—inevitably arbitrarily—defined length of time, say five years. And that ex ante, agreements about political arrangements, can be regarded as political settlements only provisionally, until they pass a five-year threshold. By identifying political settlements solely with a reproducible distribution of power, Khan risks evacuating the concept of much of what makes it distinct, reducing it to just another form of political economy or power analysis. Yet one of the things that makes political settlements analysis interesting is its identification of a set of institutions and distribution of power on which powerful groups are agreed, and therefore particularly heavily invested, not just because they furnish an acceptable level of benefits, but because there is a mutual expectation that their alternative is (potentially uncontrollable) violent conflict. These institutions are therefore likely to be especially sticky and difficult to change, and may in fact be dangerous to change. In a stalemate, by contrast, powerful groups are not invested in existing institutions, meaning that change should be considerably easier, if not necessarily any less dangerous. The dilution of the distinctiveness of political settlements analysis is also apparent when Khan claims that, ‘A political settlement…is a description of the distribution of power across organizations that are relevant for analyzing a specific institutional or policy problem’.27 For us, the distribution of power that is part of a political settlement refers to the distribution of power across organizations that can threaten peace and stability: some issues and some aspects of issues will be of high relevance to these organizations; others, less so. For example, in some countries, the rents around industries such as oil may accrue to such powerful political players that any attempt radically to reform the distribution of rents would potentially destabilize the political settlement. However, less sweeping reforms, for example, the earmarking of a small percentage of oil revenues to fund, for example, universal health insurance, may leave the big players more or less untouched. They may tacitly accept such a reform, meaning that peace and stability are not imperilled. At the same time, the reform may stimulate a vigorous competition among less powerful interests, especially in health, around the distribution and uses of those revenues. These interests are relevant to the policy problem—whether and how to achieve universal health coverage—without being pivotal to the political settlement. Consequently, when it comes to understanding institutional and policy problems, a part of the analysis should refer to how that institutional or policy issue affects and is affected by the political settlement’s distribution of power, and another part to lower-level, semi-autonomous power distributions. Arguably, these lower-level power distributions can be better captured with more bespoke tools, such as the Centre for Effective States and Inclusive Development’s (ESID) ‘policy domain’,28 or else more conventional political economy tools, such as stakeholder analysis.29 Not only may these be more precise than political settlements analysis, they also help preserve the distinction between those areas of policy that may be more or less easy and safe to change, and those that may be more difficult and dangerous. An alternative Given these problems with Khan’s definition, we propose the following alternative, illustrated in Figure 1. A political settlement is: (1) an ongoing, conflict-ending agreement among powerful groups, around (2) a set of political institutions and a distribution of power, expected to deliver, (3) an acceptable distribution of benefits. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide The idea of a political settlement Figure 1 View largeDownload slide The idea of a political settlement To elaborate, by ‘powerful groups’ we mean groups that have the ability to overthrow or seriously disrupt the settlement. We have more to say about this below. ‘Agreements’ can be formal or informal, voluntary or imposed; they can be ‘thin’, in the sense of consisting of little more than an agreement to divide rents, or ‘thick’ in the sense of embodying a more detailed vision for society. By ‘political institutions’ we mean the basic rules of the political game. These include formal institutions such as constitutions, electoral systems, electoral regulations and rules around leadership selection and succession; as well as informal institutions such as paradigmatic ideas or ideologies about who is entitled to participate in or benefit from politics, conventions around political participation, authority, and entitlements, or norms around loyalty, impersonality, and rule-following. Political institutions partially create or consolidate a certain ‘distribution or concentration of power’ around particular groups or organizations, formal and informal. Finally, benefits may be material or non-material, and, if the settlement is to be sustained, their actual delivery must be acceptable to, that is to say, compatible with the expectations of, the aforementioned powerful groups. Stated this way, our definition preserves the intuitive everyday association of a settlement as an agreement around a set of political arrangements with distributional consequences, thus conforming to Gerring’s advice on sound concept formation. It is also extremely rich, and, following Goertz, abounding in causal properties, in the sense that any of its dimensions could in principle be disaggregated and linked to hypothesized characteristics or effects. There is no ‘right way’ of dissecting these dimensions: it all depends on the questions one wants to answer. To provide just one example, political settlements theory has recently been criticized for failing to take gender seriously.30 However, under our definition, analysts could investigate the gender of powerful groups and ask if the agreement includes an ideological commitment to gender equality, if this involves formal institutional reforms supported by informal norms that actually empower women or their representatives, and whether there is an expectation that this will result in a more equal distribution of benefits between genders. For his part, Khan has mainly used his political settlements framework to analyze the feasibility of state-led industrial policy by unpacking just one of our conceptual dimensions in a very specific way. In brief, he analyzes the distribution of power in order to categorize settlements according to the strength of the ‘ruling coalition’ relative to (a) internal coalitional factions, and (b) external, oppositional factions. Where the ruling coalition is weak relative to internal factions, it will have difficulty disciplining its own supporters and thus struggle to implement sound industrial policy; and where it is weak relative to external factions, it will be in constant fear of overthrow and thus lack the time horizon to incentivize long-term industrial policy. Only when the rulers are strong relative to internal and external factions, will there be a potential developmental coalition.31 Through several case studies, Khan has shown that his framework can be a powerful tool for explaining industrial policy outcomes in a variety of countries.32 However, he has not yet, to our mind, proved that it is the only or most powerful tool for the job. Moreover, studies by ESID, while finding the framework useful for areas such as social protection, natural resource management and oil, have found it to be only somewhat effective for explaining experience in other policy areas, for example domestic violence legislation, education and health, or public sector reform.33 Even by his own admission, Khan’s framework cannot fully explain why some potential developmental coalitions choose long-term industrial policy and others do not.34 Neither does it say much about the breadth or inclusivity of how the outcomes of successful industrial policy are distributed. By conjoining the Khan framework to other political settlement dimensions, however, or by unpacking the dimensions in slightly different ways, we believe the explanatory potential of political settlements analysis can be augmented. In the next section, we illustrate this potential by partially unpacking the ‘agreement’ dimension to explore what we call the political settlement’s ‘social configuration’. The social configuration of the political settlement Consistent with our concept of a political settlement, the primary focus for political settlements analysis should be the groups or organizations whose agreement or acceptance of the settlement is important to its reproduction, in the sense that they have the ability to seriously disrupt, unsettle, or overturn it. We call this ability ‘disruptive potential’. Disruption, it should be stressed, can take various forms, for example: A military or palace coup d’etat Armed insurgency Economically crippling disinvestment (including withdrawal of foreign aid), sabotage, or strike action Mass civil disobedience or disorder Credible electoral threats to the existing order To identify disruptive potential we need to look for individuals and groups (including coalitions and factions) that have military or other violence capability; significant informal power or ‘king-making’ ability; strategically very important economic power; mass mobilizational capability; or anti-system political views with some electoral capability. In many cases, there will be a history of action that provides evidence of this potential. But because disruptive potential may come in the shape of latent or passive power,35 political settlements analysts will sometimes have to make a judgement based on imagined possibilities, including possibilities of simultaneous action or coalition building with other disruptive groups. Mapped in this way, we refer to the identity and arrangement of disruptive groups as the settlement’s ‘social configuration’. The political leadership is likely to respond to disruptive potential using two basic strategies: co-optation and repression. Co-optation can take non-material and material forms. Regarding the former, the leadership may expend considerable efforts on an ideological strategy for inculcating a belief in the settlement’s ‘naturalness’ or ‘rightness’, in which it is likely to enlist intellectuals and religious authorities among others. Regarding the latter, it is likely to distribute material benefits, perhaps in the form of patronage or pork barrel handouts or perhaps via more programmatic initiatives, such as economic growth and social development policies. We call co-opted groups the settlement’s ‘social foundation’. With respect to repression, the political leadership may decide that it is better to repress some groups than to co-opt them. This is likely to depend partly on the leaders’ normative orientation, and partly on a calculation regarding the relative costs of each strategy. If we assume that the marginal costs (and risks) of repression versus co-optation grow as groups increase in size, we can posit that political leaders are more likely to repress small disruptive groups than large ones. The virulence of the threat posed by these groups, their presumed ideological flexibility, plus the availability of outside resources to assist with either repression or co-optation are also likely to enter the equation. Some readers will doubtless point out that in real life matters are rarely so clear cut, and that often the leadership will pursue a mixture of repressive and co-optive strategies vis-a-vis any particular social group, with the balance of this mix changing over time. That granted, we think that it should be possible, at any point, to distinguish the top leadership’s dominant strategy, and thus to say which groups comprise the foundation of the settlement. Where it really is impossible, it may be legitimate to categorize a social group as occupying a liminal position, as represented by the outer circle in Figure 2. Groups that lack disruptive potential are marginal to the political settlement: they are not strictly speaking part of its social configuration, although they may be included, purely for illustrative purposes, in diagrams of it. Figure 2 View largeDownload slide The social configuration of the political settlement Figure 2 View largeDownload slide The social configuration of the political settlement Naturally, there are complicating factors. Social groups can be quite fluid, as new political and social identities emerge or dissolve, as disruptive potential waxes and wanes, or as new coalitions among groups get formed. The implication is that the composition of the political settlement’s social foundation is unlikely to be static over time. However, the social foundation can evolve without the settlement itself changing, as long as one or more of the other dimensions of the settlement remains constant. For example, a group that was formerly repressed might switch to being co-opted, without any major institutional or distributional changes, simply because of a change of attitude on behalf either of the top leadership or the group itself. It is also important not to confuse the settlement’s social foundation with the polity’s ‘winning coalition’: those groups that are essential to placing and sustaining the leadership in power.36 While in non-institutionalized autocracies there is likely to be quite a high degree of overlap, in the sense that the groups that can remove the leadership are the groups with disruptive potential, in more institutionalized autocracies or competitive democracies, this need not be the case. For example, in a genuinely competitive mass democracy or polyarchy, the winners may need to build an electoral coalition that includes at least some groups and individuals without significant disruptive potential.37 At the same time, the winners can exclude groups that have disruptive potential, knowing that, given basic agreement on the rules of the democratic system, this potential will not be exercised. They would be unwise completely to ignore the interests of these groups, however, if they wish support for the democratic settlement to endure. We hypothesize that knowing the identity of the groups that comprise the settlement’s social foundation can help explain some of the content of public policy, or at least public policy efforts. If garment producers have a lot of disruptive potential, for example, the political leadership will likely try to placate them with favourable policies. If mining companies, or ‘working class women’, or ‘Catholics’, or ‘Hutu elites’ have a lot of disruptive potential, the same. International actors can also be part of the settlement and can be ‘co-opted’, ‘liminal’, ‘marginal’ or ‘repressed’, depending on their disruptive potential and the leadership’s strategy towards them. More generally, we can predict that where the groups with disruptive potential are both broad (in the sense of being socially and or geographically diverse) and deep (in the sense of spanning different economic strata), then the leadership will likely try to deliver inclusive benefits. By contrast, where groups are narrow, or shallow, a more exclusionary strategy will suffice; marginal groups may still receive benefits, but the leadership will not feel consistently compelled to cater to their interests. We believe that the social configuration variable potentially adds value to Khan’s framework. Khan’s approach provides important insights into the ruling coalition’s time-horizon and implementation capability, but it does not provide an inherent method for determining the breadth or depth of the population categories that the top leadership is likely to pay special attention to, nor consequently much insight into the inclusivity of development policy. It does not answer why some elites appear to be committed to inclusive development policies, or why they might have an incentive to build the state capacity to deliver it. The elaborated political settlement approach of Lindsay Whitfield and colleagues, by concentrating on pockets of bureaucratic effectiveness and the economic sectors important to ruling elites’ survival, has more potential here.38 However, their focus on elite survival, rather than settlement survival, pulls the authors away from a pure political settlements approach, and places them closer to the work of mainstream political scientists.39 Conclusions In this response, we have argued that while Mushtaq Khan’s recent article in African Affairs is a welcome addition to the political settlements canon, its determination to distinguish itself from the ostensible ‘elite bias’ of political settlements analysis in conflict studies, comes with at least four unfortunate side effects. The first is to drive a potential wedge between conflict studies and development studies, when ideally these groups should be talking to each other. The second is to sever the concept from its ordinary language roots, a move which is likely to sow confusion among policymakers. A third is to reduce the concept’s explanatory possibilities by associating it too closely with the distribution of power, when other political settlement dimensions may also be relevant to understanding institutional and policy problems. And a fourth is to dilute the approach by mixing it with lower-level, issue-based power dynamics that may be better captured using more conventional forms of political economy analysis. By outlining a concept that remains true to the original idea of a political settlement as an ongoing agreement among powerful groups about power, institutions, and the distribution of benefits, we hope to have created a foundation for a mutually productive dialogue among scholars and practitioners in conflict, gender, and development studies. To illustrate our revised concept’s potential, we have sketched how, by unpacking the ‘agreement among powerful groups’ dimension, it is possible to generate additional hypotheses around what drives some political leaders and not others, to deliver inclusive benefits. This dimension can add value, we believe, to Khan’s framework, and we hope it will soon be joined by additional frameworks for other dimensions, extending even further political settlements analysis’ explanatory reach. Tim Kelsall (t.kelsall@odi.org.uk) is a Senior Research Fellow at the Overseas Development Institute in London. This paper was written while on secondment to the Centre for Effective States and Inclusive Development at the University of Manchester (www.effective-states.org). He would like to thank David Booth, Sam Hickey, Nicolai Schulz and Matthias vom Hau for comments on earlier drafts, as well as all the participants at a workshop on political settlements typologies at the University of Manchester, October 2017. This article was first published online as part of a virtual special issue. Footnotes 1. Sam Hickey, ‘Thinking about the politics of development: Towards a relational approach’ (ESID Concept Paper, Centre for Effective States and Inclusive Development, University of Manchester, Manchester, 2011); Nicolai Schulz and Jorn Gravingholt, ‘Researching political settlements empirically: More than nailing jelly to the wall’, Draft paper prepared for Development Studies Association Conference, 2016. 2. Mushtaq Khan, ‘Introduction: Political settlements and the analysis of institutions’, African Affairs, Virtual issue: Political settlements research in Africa (2018), pp. 636–655. 3. Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, Why nations fail: The origins of power, prosperity, and poverty (Profile Books, London, 2012). 4. Khan, ‘Introduction: Political settlements and the analysis of institutions’, pp. 7–10. 5. Ibid., p. 15. 6. Mushtaq Khan, ‘Political settlements and the governance of growth-enhancing institutions. Draft Paper’, Research Paper Series on ‘Growth-Enhancing Governance’ (SOAS, University of London, London, 2010) p. 20. 7. Ibid. 8. Ibid. 9. Ibid. 10. Khan, ‘Introduction: Political settlements and the analysis of institutions’, p. 1. 11. Ibid., p. 14. 12. Ibid., p. 5. 13. John Gerring, Social science methodology: A unified framework. Kindle edition (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2011), Loc 3005. 14. Gary Goertz, Social science concepts: A user’s guide (Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2006), p. 5. 15. BBC News, ‘South Sudan opposition wants “political settlement”’, 19 January 2017, <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-africa-38575104/south-sudan-opposition-wants-political-settlement> (3 January 2018). 16. Matthew Weaver and John Henley, ‘Syria conflict: Hezbollah calls for political settlement’, Syria – Middle East Live, 4 January 2013, <https://www.theguardian.com/world/middle-east-live/2013/jan/04/syria-hezbollah-political-settlement-live> (3 January 2018). 17. Government of Northern Ireland, ‘Political settlement: Statements issued on Friday 24 March 1972 by the Prime Minister and the Government. Presented to parliament by command of His Excellency the Governor of Northern Ireland, March 1972 (Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, Belfast) <http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/proni/1972/proni_CAB-4-1649_1972-03-24.pdf> (3 January 2018). 18. ‘Politics’, English Oxford Living Dictionaries <https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/politics> (3 January 2018). 19. ‘Politics’, Merriam-Webster Dictionary <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/politics> (3 January 2018). 20. David Easton, A framework for political analysis (Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1965). 21. Harold Lasswell, Politics: Who gets what, when, how (Literary Licensing LLC, Whitefish, MT, 1936 [2011]). 22. Adrian Leftwich (ed.), What is politics? The activity and its study (Polity, Oxford, 2004), p. 65. 23. ‘Settlement’, English Oxford Living Dictionaries <https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/settlement> (3 January 2018). 24. Khan, ‘Introduction: Political settlements and the analysis of institutions’, p. 14. 25. Ibid., p. 6. 26. Thus, the Edinburgh group, awkward though it sounds, may be onto something when they describe countries like Afghanistan as having a ‘formalized political unsettlement’ (although even this may be too generous a description of the situation in Afghanistan). Christine Bell and Jan Pospisil, ‘Navigating inclusion in transition from conflict: The formalised political unsettlement’, Journal of International Development, 29 (2017), pp. 576–93. 27. Khan, ‘Introduction: Political settlements and the analysis of institutions’, p. 4. 28. Pablo Yanguas, ‘Varieties of state-building in Africa: Elites, ideas and the politics of public sector reform’ (ESID Working Paper No. 89, Centre for Effective States and Inclusive Development, Manchester University, 2017). 29. ODI, ‘Mapping political context: Stakeholder analysis’, ODI Toolkits January 2009, <https://www.odi.org/publications/5530-stakeholder-analysis> (8 April 2018). 30. Catherine O’Rourke, ‘Gendering political settlements: Challenges and opportunities’, Journal of International Development 29 (2017), pp. 594–612. 31. Khan, ‘Political settlements and the governance of growth-enhancing institutions’. 32. Ibid. 33. Kunal Sen and Pablo Yanguas, ‘Notes on the typologies used in ESID Phase 1. What have we learnt from their use so far? Background note for ESID workshop, Manchester, November 2016’ (Unpublished paper, 2016). 34. Khan, ‘Political settlements and the governance of growth-enhancing institutions’, p. 66. 35. We follow Peter Morriss’ observation: ‘when we investigate people’s power to achieve some given end we sometimes find three sorts of people: those who have the power to obtain it; those who do not have the power to obtain it; and those who do not have the power to obtain it but get it anyway. I suggested that sometimes we may want to lump together those in the first and third groups; when we do, we say that those in the third group have passive power’. Peter Morriss, Power: A philosophical analysis (Manchester University Press, Manchester, 2002, second edition), p. 102. 36. Bruce Bueno De Mesquita, R.M. Smith Bueno, and J.D. Morrow, The logic of political survival (MIT University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2003). 37. A slightly different point is that in a genuinely open political system, even marginal groups have a kind of latent disruptive potential in the sense that they could conceivably vote for anti-system politicians or parties, meaning that they are consistently ignored at the settlement’s peril. 38. Lindsay Whitfield and Ole Therkilsden, ‘What drives states to support the development of productive sectors? Strategies ruling elites pursue for political survival and their policy implications’, (DIIS Working Paper 2011:15, Danish Institute for International Studies, Copenhagen, 2011), Lindsay Whitfield, Ole Therkilden, Lars Buur, and Anne Mette Kjaer, The politics of African industrial policy (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2015). 39. Readers will notice that our approach is also close to that of the elite survival/systemic vulnerability theories of Doner, Slater, and Ramsay, but it is not identical to them. Richard F. Doner, Bryan K. Ritchie, and Dan Slater, ‘Systemic vulnerability and the origins of developmental states: Northeast and Southeast Asia in comparative perspective’, International Organization, 59/2 (2005), pp. 327–361; Dan Slater, Ordering power: Contentious politics and authoritarian Leviathans in Southeast Asia (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2010). © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Royal African Society. All rights reserved This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/open_access/funder_policies/chorus/standard_publication_model) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png African Affairs Oxford University Press

Towards a universal political settlement concept: A response to Mushtaq Khan

African Affairs , Volume 117 (469) – Oct 1, 2018

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Abstract

Mushtaq khan’s political settlement framework has been deservedly influential in recent studies of development, but it has always suffered from some areas of conceptual and methodological ambiguity.1 In a recent article for African Affairs, Khan seeks to clarify his framework as well as positioning it in relation to other influential work in the field.2 Here, Khan goes further than he has before in explaining how his political settlements framework differs from institutionalist approaches such as that of Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson,3 arguing persuasively that the same institutions, for example liberal democracy or formally free markets, will have very different effects depending on the distribution of organizational power in society.4 In addition, he explains how his framework can offer powerful insights to policymakers on such questions as the prevalence of corruption in developing countries, or the feasibility of state-led industrial policy. Such insights are unavailable, he thinks, to a political settlements approach which focuses on elite pacts or agreements, as is typical in contemporary peace and conflict studies. ‘[T]he elite pact definition of a political settlement should’, he argues, ‘be treated as a distinct approach that can provide complementary information, rather than essentially the same analytical framework articulated in a different language’.5 We find much to agree with in Khan’s recent contribution, not least the exegesis of how a focus on the distribution of organizational power can illuminate many issues of current concern to policymakers, including corruption, industrial policy, and the sustainability of formal peace agreements. At the same time, we believe that by defining a political settlement as the distribution of organizational power, Khan severs the concept from some of its commonsense roots as an agreement among conflicting parties. As we hope to show, not only does this contravene principles of sound concept formation, it also unnecessarily narrows the idea of a political settlement, diverting attention from alternative political settlement features with significant explanatory potential. Another aspect we find troubling is Khan’s equivocation between defining the political settlement on the one hand as a macro-political societal feature, and on the other hand as the distribution of organizational power relevant to the analysis of specific institutional and policy issues. The latter move, in our view, dilutes the concept, mixing it up with lower-level political dynamics, which, while relevant to the study of institutions, may be more-or-less autonomous of the political settlement. Part of the confusion stems, we believe, from Khan’s conflation of his own powerful explanatory framework with the very idea of a political settlement itself. As an alternative, we present a revised concept, rooted in everyday usage, capable of encompassing work in peace and conflict and development studies. By agreeing on this concept, we hope that diverse scholarly communities can engage in a mutually comprehensible dialogue about the analytical strengths and applications of their various frameworks. What is a political settlement? In his major 2010 paper, Khan argues that ‘a political settlement is a description of the “social order” that describes how a society solves the problem of violence and achieves a minimum level of political stability and economic performance for it to operate as a society’.6 At a ‘deeper level’, he argues, ‘a political settlement implies an institutional structure that creates benefits for different classes and groups in line with their relative power’ [emphasis added].7 This is necessary, he argues, for stable agreements among elites (the commonsensical view of political settlements), to be viable.8 Thus, a political settlement is, ‘an interdependent combination of a structure of power and institutions at the level of a society that is mutually “compatible” and also “sustainable” in terms of economic and political viability’.9 In his latest contribution, however, Khan distances himself from the emphasis on elite agreement. ‘A distribution of organizational power is a political settlement if it reproduces itself over time’ he says, and the political settlement is, ‘the distribution of organizational power’.10 ‘What matters in defining a sustainable political economy at the macro level is not an explicit, or even an implicit, agreement or pact between elites, but a stable distribution of power across organizations’.11 Further, ‘All that is required for the existence of a political settlement is that the system is able to reproduce, which by definition means that the levels of economic performance or political violence are sustainable in that system’.12 Khan’s shift from a conception in his 2010 paper of a political settlement that acknowledges and underpins the idea of an agreement to one, in his latest offering, that eschews it, is unfortunate, in our view. In his magnum opus of social scientific methods, John Gerring advises that social scientific concepts should ‘resonate with everyday usage’, and not unnecessarily disturb their ‘semantic field’,13 while Gary Goertz, in his extended treatment of the topic, argues that concepts should also ‘identify ontological attributes that play a key role in causal hypotheses, explanations, and mechanisms’.14 In everyday discourse, the idea of a ‘political settlement’ is usually juxtaposed with ongoing war, or perhaps with a ‘military victory’, in which one side is presumably thoroughly defeated. For example, in January 2017, an article on the BBC website claimed that the South Sudanese opposition wanted ‘a political settlement’.15 On 4 January 2013, a story appeared in The Guardian about Hezbollah calling for a ‘political settlement’ to the Syria conflict and the prospect of UN talks on the matter.16The New York Times last used the term in March 2011, in an editorial calling for a ‘negotiated political settlement’ in Afghanistan. It appears in a similar sense in a 1972 document of the same name, issued by the Ulster Government in response to the troubles in Northern Ireland.17 Arguably, the term is traceable at least as far back as the 1688 Glorious Revolution and the ‘Settlement’ between the King and British Parliament. Further insight can be gained by examining the term’s constituent parts. ‘Political’ is an adjective derived from the noun ‘politics’, for which the Oxford Living Dictionary supplies several definitions ranging from ‘The activities associated with the governance of a country or area, especially the debate between parties having power’ to ‘the principles relating to or inherent in a sphere or activity, especially when concerned with power and status’.18Merriam-Webster also provides several definitions, ranging from ‘the art or science of government’ through ‘competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership (as in a government)’ to ‘the total complex of relations between people living in society’.19 Naturally, the concept of politics also has a long career in political science. To give three influential examples: David Easton defined politics as ‘the authoritative allocation of values’;20 Harold Lasswell associated it with distributional issues, or ‘Who gets what, when and how’;21 and Adrian Leftwich argued that, ‘politics comprises all the activities of cooperation and conflict, within and between societies, whereby the human species goes about organizing the use, production and distribution of human, natural and other resources in the course of the production and reproduction of its biological and social life’.22 ‘Settlement’, meanwhile, is a noun that derives from the verb ‘to settle’. Etymologically, ‘settle’ derives from Middle English, to seat, bring to rest, come to rest—from the Old English setlan—from setl, seat. Merriam-Webster defines, ‘settle’, as, among other things, ‘to come to rest’, ‘to sink gradually or to the bottom’, ‘to become clear by the deposit of sediment or scum’, ‘to become fixed, resolved, or established,’ or ‘to become quiet or orderly.’ The Oxford Living Dictionary defines a ‘settlement’, in the first instance, as ‘An official agreement intended to resolve a dispute or conflict’.23 From these sources, we infer that popular usage understands a political settlement to be a settling down, resolution, or aversion of conflict, most likely the result of an agreement, perhaps official, presumably between the parties to conflict, but possibly also the result of a natural sedimentation or tacit acceptance, which creates a degree of fixity in who has political power, the institutions of government or governance, and or distributional issues. In Khan’s recent article, however, a ‘settlement’ occurs whenever there is some relative stability in macro-political arrangements. In his view, no agreement, not even an implicit one, is necessary. Parties can keep on fighting, provided there is no drastic alteration in the distribution of power. This seems consistent with an idea of a settlement as a natural or physical process of sedimentation, as contained in some of the dictionary definitions above. But it seems inconsistent with everyday understandings of what a settlement is in a human context. A settlement in a human context implies some degree of agency, even if heavily constrained. When I settle, for example in a divorce case, I implicitly agree to something, even if I don’t much like it. When I settle down into a rhythm of doing things, I accept the way things are without trying too hard to change them. Even if a settlement is imposed on me, if I give up fighting, I have accepted that it is better to stop fighting than to risk further injury. Indeed, even Khan seems to recognize this when he says that, ‘A stable organizational power structure…is a description of a complex outcome of contestation where powerful organizations accept the rents they receive as the best that is feasible, without disruptive mobilizations that attempt to change the distribution of power’ [emphasis added].24 Khan seems to be wrong, then, when he says that a country like Afghanistan may have a political settlement,25 since pretty much all the powerful factions within Afghanistan are trying to change the distribution of power, and using violence to do so.26 What one arguably has in Afghanistan is a stalemate, perpetuated by the heavy presence of international military assistance; there is not even a minimal agreement on rent distribution, let alone a common understanding or shared vision for society. In stalemates, stability is likely to be extremely tenuous, and thus not really settled at all. This is different from a settlement in which peace largely reigns but in which there is a commonly accepted level of skirmishing, raiding, or other forms of political violence around the margins; these are games within the rules, rather than attempts to change the rules. There is a tension, then, between ordinary language usage, which places the emphasis on ‘agreement’, and Khan, who, at least in his latest article, places it on reproducibility or durability. In our view, both are important. A political settlement is intended to be durable. An agreement that lasts only a day has probably been entered into in bad faith and is thus not really an agreement at all. And just as a chess match, even when ostensibly at stalemate, is not settled so long as both players continue pushing their pieces around the board, so a stalemate that lasted 20 years would not be a settlement if none of the parties agreed to the political arrangements governing them, and all were looking for the earliest opportunity for change. When it comes to identifying settlements, then, we might say that a political settlement can be taken to have existed ex post when there has been an agreement over a set of political arrangements associated with a distribution of power and benefits, that has lasted some—inevitably arbitrarily—defined length of time, say five years. And that ex ante, agreements about political arrangements, can be regarded as political settlements only provisionally, until they pass a five-year threshold. By identifying political settlements solely with a reproducible distribution of power, Khan risks evacuating the concept of much of what makes it distinct, reducing it to just another form of political economy or power analysis. Yet one of the things that makes political settlements analysis interesting is its identification of a set of institutions and distribution of power on which powerful groups are agreed, and therefore particularly heavily invested, not just because they furnish an acceptable level of benefits, but because there is a mutual expectation that their alternative is (potentially uncontrollable) violent conflict. These institutions are therefore likely to be especially sticky and difficult to change, and may in fact be dangerous to change. In a stalemate, by contrast, powerful groups are not invested in existing institutions, meaning that change should be considerably easier, if not necessarily any less dangerous. The dilution of the distinctiveness of political settlements analysis is also apparent when Khan claims that, ‘A political settlement…is a description of the distribution of power across organizations that are relevant for analyzing a specific institutional or policy problem’.27 For us, the distribution of power that is part of a political settlement refers to the distribution of power across organizations that can threaten peace and stability: some issues and some aspects of issues will be of high relevance to these organizations; others, less so. For example, in some countries, the rents around industries such as oil may accrue to such powerful political players that any attempt radically to reform the distribution of rents would potentially destabilize the political settlement. However, less sweeping reforms, for example, the earmarking of a small percentage of oil revenues to fund, for example, universal health insurance, may leave the big players more or less untouched. They may tacitly accept such a reform, meaning that peace and stability are not imperilled. At the same time, the reform may stimulate a vigorous competition among less powerful interests, especially in health, around the distribution and uses of those revenues. These interests are relevant to the policy problem—whether and how to achieve universal health coverage—without being pivotal to the political settlement. Consequently, when it comes to understanding institutional and policy problems, a part of the analysis should refer to how that institutional or policy issue affects and is affected by the political settlement’s distribution of power, and another part to lower-level, semi-autonomous power distributions. Arguably, these lower-level power distributions can be better captured with more bespoke tools, such as the Centre for Effective States and Inclusive Development’s (ESID) ‘policy domain’,28 or else more conventional political economy tools, such as stakeholder analysis.29 Not only may these be more precise than political settlements analysis, they also help preserve the distinction between those areas of policy that may be more or less easy and safe to change, and those that may be more difficult and dangerous. An alternative Given these problems with Khan’s definition, we propose the following alternative, illustrated in Figure 1. A political settlement is: (1) an ongoing, conflict-ending agreement among powerful groups, around (2) a set of political institutions and a distribution of power, expected to deliver, (3) an acceptable distribution of benefits. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide The idea of a political settlement Figure 1 View largeDownload slide The idea of a political settlement To elaborate, by ‘powerful groups’ we mean groups that have the ability to overthrow or seriously disrupt the settlement. We have more to say about this below. ‘Agreements’ can be formal or informal, voluntary or imposed; they can be ‘thin’, in the sense of consisting of little more than an agreement to divide rents, or ‘thick’ in the sense of embodying a more detailed vision for society. By ‘political institutions’ we mean the basic rules of the political game. These include formal institutions such as constitutions, electoral systems, electoral regulations and rules around leadership selection and succession; as well as informal institutions such as paradigmatic ideas or ideologies about who is entitled to participate in or benefit from politics, conventions around political participation, authority, and entitlements, or norms around loyalty, impersonality, and rule-following. Political institutions partially create or consolidate a certain ‘distribution or concentration of power’ around particular groups or organizations, formal and informal. Finally, benefits may be material or non-material, and, if the settlement is to be sustained, their actual delivery must be acceptable to, that is to say, compatible with the expectations of, the aforementioned powerful groups. Stated this way, our definition preserves the intuitive everyday association of a settlement as an agreement around a set of political arrangements with distributional consequences, thus conforming to Gerring’s advice on sound concept formation. It is also extremely rich, and, following Goertz, abounding in causal properties, in the sense that any of its dimensions could in principle be disaggregated and linked to hypothesized characteristics or effects. There is no ‘right way’ of dissecting these dimensions: it all depends on the questions one wants to answer. To provide just one example, political settlements theory has recently been criticized for failing to take gender seriously.30 However, under our definition, analysts could investigate the gender of powerful groups and ask if the agreement includes an ideological commitment to gender equality, if this involves formal institutional reforms supported by informal norms that actually empower women or their representatives, and whether there is an expectation that this will result in a more equal distribution of benefits between genders. For his part, Khan has mainly used his political settlements framework to analyze the feasibility of state-led industrial policy by unpacking just one of our conceptual dimensions in a very specific way. In brief, he analyzes the distribution of power in order to categorize settlements according to the strength of the ‘ruling coalition’ relative to (a) internal coalitional factions, and (b) external, oppositional factions. Where the ruling coalition is weak relative to internal factions, it will have difficulty disciplining its own supporters and thus struggle to implement sound industrial policy; and where it is weak relative to external factions, it will be in constant fear of overthrow and thus lack the time horizon to incentivize long-term industrial policy. Only when the rulers are strong relative to internal and external factions, will there be a potential developmental coalition.31 Through several case studies, Khan has shown that his framework can be a powerful tool for explaining industrial policy outcomes in a variety of countries.32 However, he has not yet, to our mind, proved that it is the only or most powerful tool for the job. Moreover, studies by ESID, while finding the framework useful for areas such as social protection, natural resource management and oil, have found it to be only somewhat effective for explaining experience in other policy areas, for example domestic violence legislation, education and health, or public sector reform.33 Even by his own admission, Khan’s framework cannot fully explain why some potential developmental coalitions choose long-term industrial policy and others do not.34 Neither does it say much about the breadth or inclusivity of how the outcomes of successful industrial policy are distributed. By conjoining the Khan framework to other political settlement dimensions, however, or by unpacking the dimensions in slightly different ways, we believe the explanatory potential of political settlements analysis can be augmented. In the next section, we illustrate this potential by partially unpacking the ‘agreement’ dimension to explore what we call the political settlement’s ‘social configuration’. The social configuration of the political settlement Consistent with our concept of a political settlement, the primary focus for political settlements analysis should be the groups or organizations whose agreement or acceptance of the settlement is important to its reproduction, in the sense that they have the ability to seriously disrupt, unsettle, or overturn it. We call this ability ‘disruptive potential’. Disruption, it should be stressed, can take various forms, for example: A military or palace coup d’etat Armed insurgency Economically crippling disinvestment (including withdrawal of foreign aid), sabotage, or strike action Mass civil disobedience or disorder Credible electoral threats to the existing order To identify disruptive potential we need to look for individuals and groups (including coalitions and factions) that have military or other violence capability; significant informal power or ‘king-making’ ability; strategically very important economic power; mass mobilizational capability; or anti-system political views with some electoral capability. In many cases, there will be a history of action that provides evidence of this potential. But because disruptive potential may come in the shape of latent or passive power,35 political settlements analysts will sometimes have to make a judgement based on imagined possibilities, including possibilities of simultaneous action or coalition building with other disruptive groups. Mapped in this way, we refer to the identity and arrangement of disruptive groups as the settlement’s ‘social configuration’. The political leadership is likely to respond to disruptive potential using two basic strategies: co-optation and repression. Co-optation can take non-material and material forms. Regarding the former, the leadership may expend considerable efforts on an ideological strategy for inculcating a belief in the settlement’s ‘naturalness’ or ‘rightness’, in which it is likely to enlist intellectuals and religious authorities among others. Regarding the latter, it is likely to distribute material benefits, perhaps in the form of patronage or pork barrel handouts or perhaps via more programmatic initiatives, such as economic growth and social development policies. We call co-opted groups the settlement’s ‘social foundation’. With respect to repression, the political leadership may decide that it is better to repress some groups than to co-opt them. This is likely to depend partly on the leaders’ normative orientation, and partly on a calculation regarding the relative costs of each strategy. If we assume that the marginal costs (and risks) of repression versus co-optation grow as groups increase in size, we can posit that political leaders are more likely to repress small disruptive groups than large ones. The virulence of the threat posed by these groups, their presumed ideological flexibility, plus the availability of outside resources to assist with either repression or co-optation are also likely to enter the equation. Some readers will doubtless point out that in real life matters are rarely so clear cut, and that often the leadership will pursue a mixture of repressive and co-optive strategies vis-a-vis any particular social group, with the balance of this mix changing over time. That granted, we think that it should be possible, at any point, to distinguish the top leadership’s dominant strategy, and thus to say which groups comprise the foundation of the settlement. Where it really is impossible, it may be legitimate to categorize a social group as occupying a liminal position, as represented by the outer circle in Figure 2. Groups that lack disruptive potential are marginal to the political settlement: they are not strictly speaking part of its social configuration, although they may be included, purely for illustrative purposes, in diagrams of it. Figure 2 View largeDownload slide The social configuration of the political settlement Figure 2 View largeDownload slide The social configuration of the political settlement Naturally, there are complicating factors. Social groups can be quite fluid, as new political and social identities emerge or dissolve, as disruptive potential waxes and wanes, or as new coalitions among groups get formed. The implication is that the composition of the political settlement’s social foundation is unlikely to be static over time. However, the social foundation can evolve without the settlement itself changing, as long as one or more of the other dimensions of the settlement remains constant. For example, a group that was formerly repressed might switch to being co-opted, without any major institutional or distributional changes, simply because of a change of attitude on behalf either of the top leadership or the group itself. It is also important not to confuse the settlement’s social foundation with the polity’s ‘winning coalition’: those groups that are essential to placing and sustaining the leadership in power.36 While in non-institutionalized autocracies there is likely to be quite a high degree of overlap, in the sense that the groups that can remove the leadership are the groups with disruptive potential, in more institutionalized autocracies or competitive democracies, this need not be the case. For example, in a genuinely competitive mass democracy or polyarchy, the winners may need to build an electoral coalition that includes at least some groups and individuals without significant disruptive potential.37 At the same time, the winners can exclude groups that have disruptive potential, knowing that, given basic agreement on the rules of the democratic system, this potential will not be exercised. They would be unwise completely to ignore the interests of these groups, however, if they wish support for the democratic settlement to endure. We hypothesize that knowing the identity of the groups that comprise the settlement’s social foundation can help explain some of the content of public policy, or at least public policy efforts. If garment producers have a lot of disruptive potential, for example, the political leadership will likely try to placate them with favourable policies. If mining companies, or ‘working class women’, or ‘Catholics’, or ‘Hutu elites’ have a lot of disruptive potential, the same. International actors can also be part of the settlement and can be ‘co-opted’, ‘liminal’, ‘marginal’ or ‘repressed’, depending on their disruptive potential and the leadership’s strategy towards them. More generally, we can predict that where the groups with disruptive potential are both broad (in the sense of being socially and or geographically diverse) and deep (in the sense of spanning different economic strata), then the leadership will likely try to deliver inclusive benefits. By contrast, where groups are narrow, or shallow, a more exclusionary strategy will suffice; marginal groups may still receive benefits, but the leadership will not feel consistently compelled to cater to their interests. We believe that the social configuration variable potentially adds value to Khan’s framework. Khan’s approach provides important insights into the ruling coalition’s time-horizon and implementation capability, but it does not provide an inherent method for determining the breadth or depth of the population categories that the top leadership is likely to pay special attention to, nor consequently much insight into the inclusivity of development policy. It does not answer why some elites appear to be committed to inclusive development policies, or why they might have an incentive to build the state capacity to deliver it. The elaborated political settlement approach of Lindsay Whitfield and colleagues, by concentrating on pockets of bureaucratic effectiveness and the economic sectors important to ruling elites’ survival, has more potential here.38 However, their focus on elite survival, rather than settlement survival, pulls the authors away from a pure political settlements approach, and places them closer to the work of mainstream political scientists.39 Conclusions In this response, we have argued that while Mushtaq Khan’s recent article in African Affairs is a welcome addition to the political settlements canon, its determination to distinguish itself from the ostensible ‘elite bias’ of political settlements analysis in conflict studies, comes with at least four unfortunate side effects. The first is to drive a potential wedge between conflict studies and development studies, when ideally these groups should be talking to each other. The second is to sever the concept from its ordinary language roots, a move which is likely to sow confusion among policymakers. A third is to reduce the concept’s explanatory possibilities by associating it too closely with the distribution of power, when other political settlement dimensions may also be relevant to understanding institutional and policy problems. And a fourth is to dilute the approach by mixing it with lower-level, issue-based power dynamics that may be better captured using more conventional forms of political economy analysis. By outlining a concept that remains true to the original idea of a political settlement as an ongoing agreement among powerful groups about power, institutions, and the distribution of benefits, we hope to have created a foundation for a mutually productive dialogue among scholars and practitioners in conflict, gender, and development studies. To illustrate our revised concept’s potential, we have sketched how, by unpacking the ‘agreement among powerful groups’ dimension, it is possible to generate additional hypotheses around what drives some political leaders and not others, to deliver inclusive benefits. This dimension can add value, we believe, to Khan’s framework, and we hope it will soon be joined by additional frameworks for other dimensions, extending even further political settlements analysis’ explanatory reach. Tim Kelsall (t.kelsall@odi.org.uk) is a Senior Research Fellow at the Overseas Development Institute in London. This paper was written while on secondment to the Centre for Effective States and Inclusive Development at the University of Manchester (www.effective-states.org). He would like to thank David Booth, Sam Hickey, Nicolai Schulz and Matthias vom Hau for comments on earlier drafts, as well as all the participants at a workshop on political settlements typologies at the University of Manchester, October 2017. This article was first published online as part of a virtual special issue. Footnotes 1. Sam Hickey, ‘Thinking about the politics of development: Towards a relational approach’ (ESID Concept Paper, Centre for Effective States and Inclusive Development, University of Manchester, Manchester, 2011); Nicolai Schulz and Jorn Gravingholt, ‘Researching political settlements empirically: More than nailing jelly to the wall’, Draft paper prepared for Development Studies Association Conference, 2016. 2. Mushtaq Khan, ‘Introduction: Political settlements and the analysis of institutions’, African Affairs, Virtual issue: Political settlements research in Africa (2018), pp. 636–655. 3. Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, Why nations fail: The origins of power, prosperity, and poverty (Profile Books, London, 2012). 4. Khan, ‘Introduction: Political settlements and the analysis of institutions’, pp. 7–10. 5. Ibid., p. 15. 6. Mushtaq Khan, ‘Political settlements and the governance of growth-enhancing institutions. Draft Paper’, Research Paper Series on ‘Growth-Enhancing Governance’ (SOAS, University of London, London, 2010) p. 20. 7. Ibid. 8. Ibid. 9. Ibid. 10. Khan, ‘Introduction: Political settlements and the analysis of institutions’, p. 1. 11. Ibid., p. 14. 12. Ibid., p. 5. 13. John Gerring, Social science methodology: A unified framework. Kindle edition (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2011), Loc 3005. 14. Gary Goertz, Social science concepts: A user’s guide (Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2006), p. 5. 15. BBC News, ‘South Sudan opposition wants “political settlement”’, 19 January 2017, <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-africa-38575104/south-sudan-opposition-wants-political-settlement> (3 January 2018). 16. Matthew Weaver and John Henley, ‘Syria conflict: Hezbollah calls for political settlement’, Syria – Middle East Live, 4 January 2013, <https://www.theguardian.com/world/middle-east-live/2013/jan/04/syria-hezbollah-political-settlement-live> (3 January 2018). 17. Government of Northern Ireland, ‘Political settlement: Statements issued on Friday 24 March 1972 by the Prime Minister and the Government. Presented to parliament by command of His Excellency the Governor of Northern Ireland, March 1972 (Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, Belfast) <http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/proni/1972/proni_CAB-4-1649_1972-03-24.pdf> (3 January 2018). 18. ‘Politics’, English Oxford Living Dictionaries <https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/politics> (3 January 2018). 19. ‘Politics’, Merriam-Webster Dictionary <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/politics> (3 January 2018). 20. David Easton, A framework for political analysis (Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1965). 21. Harold Lasswell, Politics: Who gets what, when, how (Literary Licensing LLC, Whitefish, MT, 1936 [2011]). 22. Adrian Leftwich (ed.), What is politics? The activity and its study (Polity, Oxford, 2004), p. 65. 23. ‘Settlement’, English Oxford Living Dictionaries <https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/settlement> (3 January 2018). 24. Khan, ‘Introduction: Political settlements and the analysis of institutions’, p. 14. 25. Ibid., p. 6. 26. Thus, the Edinburgh group, awkward though it sounds, may be onto something when they describe countries like Afghanistan as having a ‘formalized political unsettlement’ (although even this may be too generous a description of the situation in Afghanistan). Christine Bell and Jan Pospisil, ‘Navigating inclusion in transition from conflict: The formalised political unsettlement’, Journal of International Development, 29 (2017), pp. 576–93. 27. Khan, ‘Introduction: Political settlements and the analysis of institutions’, p. 4. 28. Pablo Yanguas, ‘Varieties of state-building in Africa: Elites, ideas and the politics of public sector reform’ (ESID Working Paper No. 89, Centre for Effective States and Inclusive Development, Manchester University, 2017). 29. ODI, ‘Mapping political context: Stakeholder analysis’, ODI Toolkits January 2009, <https://www.odi.org/publications/5530-stakeholder-analysis> (8 April 2018). 30. Catherine O’Rourke, ‘Gendering political settlements: Challenges and opportunities’, Journal of International Development 29 (2017), pp. 594–612. 31. Khan, ‘Political settlements and the governance of growth-enhancing institutions’. 32. Ibid. 33. Kunal Sen and Pablo Yanguas, ‘Notes on the typologies used in ESID Phase 1. What have we learnt from their use so far? Background note for ESID workshop, Manchester, November 2016’ (Unpublished paper, 2016). 34. Khan, ‘Political settlements and the governance of growth-enhancing institutions’, p. 66. 35. We follow Peter Morriss’ observation: ‘when we investigate people’s power to achieve some given end we sometimes find three sorts of people: those who have the power to obtain it; those who do not have the power to obtain it; and those who do not have the power to obtain it but get it anyway. I suggested that sometimes we may want to lump together those in the first and third groups; when we do, we say that those in the third group have passive power’. Peter Morriss, Power: A philosophical analysis (Manchester University Press, Manchester, 2002, second edition), p. 102. 36. Bruce Bueno De Mesquita, R.M. Smith Bueno, and J.D. Morrow, The logic of political survival (MIT University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2003). 37. A slightly different point is that in a genuinely open political system, even marginal groups have a kind of latent disruptive potential in the sense that they could conceivably vote for anti-system politicians or parties, meaning that they are consistently ignored at the settlement’s peril. 38. Lindsay Whitfield and Ole Therkilsden, ‘What drives states to support the development of productive sectors? Strategies ruling elites pursue for political survival and their policy implications’, (DIIS Working Paper 2011:15, Danish Institute for International Studies, Copenhagen, 2011), Lindsay Whitfield, Ole Therkilden, Lars Buur, and Anne Mette Kjaer, The politics of African industrial policy (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2015). 39. Readers will notice that our approach is also close to that of the elite survival/systemic vulnerability theories of Doner, Slater, and Ramsay, but it is not identical to them. Richard F. Doner, Bryan K. Ritchie, and Dan Slater, ‘Systemic vulnerability and the origins of developmental states: Northeast and Southeast Asia in comparative perspective’, International Organization, 59/2 (2005), pp. 327–361; Dan Slater, Ordering power: Contentious politics and authoritarian Leviathans in Southeast Asia (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2010). © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Royal African Society. All rights reserved This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/open_access/funder_policies/chorus/standard_publication_model)

Journal

African AffairsOxford University Press

Published: Oct 1, 2018

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