This paper argues that existing political economy approaches lack the analytical tools needed to grasp the inner politics of development. Political economy has come to be seen narrowly as the economics of politics – the way incentives shape behaviour. Much recent political economy work therefore misses what is distinctively political about politics – power, interests, agency, ideas, the subtleties of building and sustaining coalitions, and the role of contingency. This paper aims to give policymakers and practitioners more precise conceptual tools to help them interpret the inner, ‘micro’, politics of the contexts in which they work. It argues in particular for more focus on recognising and working with the different forms of power, on understanding how and where interests develop, and on the role of ideas.
This manuscript was written over the course of 2012. It was Adrian Leftwich’s last substantial piece of work before undergoing gruelling treatment for lung cancer and a short, but typically courageous, battle that ended on 2 April 2013.
This manuscript is the culmination of our discussions, reading, thinking and, ultimately, our unease with how politics was conceived and analysed within development. We challenged ourselves to try to put down on paper what was wrong with it, how we might improve on it, and how we might persuade others to inject fresh thinking into their work in this area too. I think we succeeded in some of this, but not all. And certainly we bit off more than we could chew.
The text is not a manifesto or blueprint, the one and only way to think about politics and development. Rather, it is an invitation to think differently.