Received wisdom holds that the provision of vital public services necessarily improves the legitimacy of a fragile or conflict-affected state. In practice, however, the relationship between a state’s performance in delivering services and its degree of legitimacy is non-linear. Specifically, this relationship is conditioned by expectations of what the state should provide, subjective assessments of impartiality and distributive justice, the relational aspects of provision, how easy it is to attribute (credit or blame) performance to the state, and the characteristics of the service.
This questions the dominant institutional model, which reduces the role of services in (re)building state legitimacy to an instrumental one. A more rounded account of the significance of service delivery for state legitimacy would look beyond the material to the ideational and relational significance of services, and engage with the normative criteria by which citizens judge them.
This Governance article is by Claire Mcloughlin.