Political settlement

Political settlement

Political Settlement: Concept in political theory linked to Elite theory, States, and State-building. Joel Migdal has suggested that the concept of political settlements has a pedigree going back to the work of Barrington Moore. Political settlements are the frameworks for governing a state established by elites, either through formal processes or informally over time. Attempts to clearly define the concept are relatively recent and the political scientist Alan Whaites has suggested that

Political settlements are the deeper, often unarticulated, understandings between elites that bring about the conditions to end conflict, but which also in most states prevent violent conflict from occurring. Political settlements happen because of self interest (hope of greater benefit from a common state-building project) or due to a strong sense of shared ethos (such as religious or ideological conviction).
He goes on to suggest that many political settlements contain the seed of their own eventual failure through inherent inflexibility.
Most political settlements now have an explicit articulation (enshrined in an evolvingdocument – usually a constitution). Ultimately, however, no political settlement canafford to be static. For a political settlement to endure it must absorb socialchange, for example settlements formed by elites that exclude a growingmiddle class usually become subject to a step change; a `Great Reform Act,’suffragettes struggle or people’s movement. It has been suggested that in moststates constitutional reform has become the metaphor for the renegotiation ofpower.

Whaites offers categories for different types of political settlements, including `engineered' and imposed. http://www.dfid.gov.uk/pubs/files/State-in-Development-Wkg-Paper.pdf

Verena Fritz and Alina Rocha Menocal published a paper in 2007 arguing that political settlements are a `domain' at the heart of all state processe. They relate the concept to broader state theory (including the issues of elections and legitimacy). They stress that political settlements are not one-off events but evolve over time. See http://www.odi.org.uk/pppg/politics_and_governance/publications/ODI_state_building_paper.pdf.

Important contributions on the establishing of political settlements in modern (particularly newly democratic) states have also been made by Tom Carothers and Marina Ottaway of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. http://www.carnegieendowment.org Also of note is JC Scott's work `Seeing Like a State' which explores the routes through which political settlements in medieval Europe begain to consolidate formal state structures.

It is important to note that in political science the concept of `political settlements' is distinct from short-term processes aimed at elite agreements, such as a `peace process' or `peace agreement.' Peace negotiations and agreements may be part of the process of achieving a political settlement, but the settlement itself is the period of time for which an elite agreement holds, which could last for days or centuries.

Controversially the political scientist Patrick Chabal has suggested that the concept of political settlements is often less useful than that of `political sedimentation,' the residue of elite accommodation that is left after a period of contestation or explict conflict, (quoted from Whaites above) see also www.dfid.gov.uk/pubs/files/Expert-feedback.pdf


Fritz, V and Rocha Menocal A, Understanding state-building from a political economy perspective, ODI, London 2007

Migdal Joel, State in Society, CUP, 2001

Moore, B, `Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy,' Beacon Press 1993

Scott, JC, `Seeing Like a State,' Yale University Press, 1999

Whaites, A, States in Development, DFID, London 2008

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