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Power, politics and programming for social accountability in Pakistan

Kirk, Thomas (2017) Power, politics and programming for social accountability in Pakistan. PhD thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

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This thesis is about development donor organisations’ enthusiasm for social accountability programmes. It argues that when they are based on neoliberal conceptions of civil society, they complement and strengthen clientelistic networks. They do this by rendering activism a technical exercise, depoliticising it and blinding donors to both its democratic and undemocratic potentials. In doing so, they displace and, sometimes purposefully, ignore actually existing civil societies’ histories as arenas for identity formation, contests and alliances over who gets what, when and how. This reduces the prospects of programmes identifying and supporting radical forms of political participation that give citizens a say in decisions that affect their lives. To make this argument, the thesis details research on a voluntary social accountability programme in Pakistan. It explores the meanings it was given by participants, the processes they engaged in that brought it to life, and the power and politics it was embedded in. It also conducts a critical discourse analysis of the idea of social accountability in texts from the programme’s donor; the United Kingdom’s Department of International Development. It is shown how efforts to translate the programme’s ground realities into its donor’s dominant discourses wrote out the identities and aspirations of its participants, pushing the more radical to its margins and turning the most powerful into its experts. From this, a theory of ‘isomorphic activism’ is developed to account for how such programmes' wider democratic aims can be undermined whilst still achieving their donors’ desired outputs. The challenges the thesis highlights are important given recent calls for development programmes to change by whom and how politics is done, whilst granting local ownership to participants, reporting their impact and demonstrating value for money. They should also be of interest to those concerned by the spread of marketprinciples within donor organisations’ ways of working with civil society, and how they are welcomed, appropriated or simply ignored on the ground.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2017 Thomas Kirk
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Sets: Departments > International Development
Supervisor: Kaldor, Mary

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