Monday, 14 February 2011

Oxford Department of International Development and St Antony’s College Conference on

“Democracy, Governance and Development: Between the Institutional and the Political?”

For Doctoral Students/ Post-doctoral Scholars

When: June 27 & 28, 2011

Where: St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford


Calls to ‘politicize’ development have increased in prominence ever since James Fergusson’s scathing critique of the ‘depoliticization’ inherent in the development machinery in Lesotho. Research on this agenda have persuaded policy-makers, donors, academics and activists to recognize that ‘political’ lenses needs to be integrated with development policy formulation, interventions, and analysis. These add value to the hitherto politically anemic descriptions of ‘good governance’, active civil society, participatory development, deliberative democracy, social capital, etc. Some authors have built on the initial criticisms, calling for “democratizing democracy” (see for instance the collection of papers in Santos, 2005) and moving beyond the confines of liberal democracy. Others have taken up the challenge of grounding these calls and grounding discussions of participation and popular politics in the context of development. This literature may be further classified into institution-focused approaches (see for instances the readings in Fung and Wright, 2005; Houtzager and Moore, 2003; Harriss et al, 2004) and movement-focused approaches (Webster and Engberg-Pedersen, 2002 ). Others have been more eclectic, and not shied away from exploring the creative tension between the two approaches (the collection of papers in Hickey and Mohan, 2004).

What has hitherto been less represented in the literature on politics and development is the ways in which ‘micro-politics’ (adapting from Scott, 1990- who deploys the term “infrapolitics”) interact with and inform the working of both institutions and movements. A focus on the ‘everyday politics’ of those who are impacted by and who in turn impact these provides insights into supporting conceptions of legitimacy, justice and governance. Such approaches have been fruitfully deployed by scholars working in diverse parts of the world, such as recent work on “political society” in India (Chatterjee, 2004), “the politics of the informal people” in Iran and the Arab world (Bayat, 1997), “multiple social contracts” in Somalia(Leonard and Samantar, forthcoming), the “informalization” of politics in sub-Saharan Africa (Chabal and Daloz, 1999), and “urban popular mobilization” in Latin America (Roberts and Portes, 2006). These perspectives are no longer confined to ‘anarcho-communitarian’ or ‘suablternists’ alone, but are recognized as critical by ‘mainstream’ development agencies and analysts as well (Leftwich, 2010; Unsworth, 2010).


This conference aims to bring together high-quality academic research on precisely this concern- the ways in which popular political processes ( a term we are deploying to refer to what has been variously called ‘subaltern politics’, ‘informal politics’, ‘micro-politics’ and ‘infra-politics’) interact with discourses, policies and practices of development. A common thread will be the ways in which these processes negotiate with neoliberal structures, the national and sub-national polity, participatory institutions, political parties and populist mobilization. The conference is specifically targeted towards doctoral students in the final stages of writing their thesis and post-doctoral scholars who have recently completed their dissertation. It is envisaged that the conference will provide the basis for continued intellectual collaboration and networking on core themes that emerge from the papers.

Conference concerns

The Conference’s two thematic concerns are:

1). Popular politics and institutions; and

2). Popular politics and social and political movements.

Papers in Theme 1 will emphasize how institutions- both formal and informal- are interpenetrated and, indeed, constituted by the popular political processes. These papers will share the motivation of the daily-level political practices that make such institutions ‘legible’ to ordinary people (rather than making ordinary people legible to institutions). Possible topics could be: corruption in local government; the discursive construction of the poor through anti-poverty programs; perceptions of legitimacy and justice vis-a-vis non-state governance institutions; persuasion and coercion by political parties; and intra-household negotiation over developmental resources.

Papers in Theme 2 will emphasize the negotiations between the popular political processes discussed above and supra-local political and social movements. These papers will be bound together through their interest in understanding how and why ordinary people participate in, or resist participation in, political and social movements. Indicative topics could be: romance of resistance among youth participants in armed ‘liberation’ movements; non-participation of the poor (or participation of the non-poor) in movements articulating claims of social justice; the discursive construction of identities and related claims to development resources; and claims of reason and unreason in political movements.

Across both these themes, the Conference intends to discuss the following substantive issues: How do participatory development, participatory governance and participatory democracy relate to one another, and with popular democracy and populist political practices? How do such practices articulate with liberal-democratic and authoritarian regimes? What are the prospects for institutional arrangements that arise out of such practices and politics, which may be neither ‘rational’ nor ‘reasonable’? Or is talking about such practices and politics merely anarchist utopia? By focusing on multiple pluralities and contesting hegemonies, do such actions subvert emancipatory politics as has sometimes been alleged, or do they contribute to the fulfillment of their agenda? Does the increasing concentration of capital and economic power make such localized, fragmentary political practices redundant?

We are interested in papers that are based on original research in any part of the ‘developing’ world. This research could be qualitative or quantitative, present ethnographic or survey data, or use archival data (including analysis of newspapers). At the same time, papers are expected to interact with the relevant thematic and geographic literature.

Important dates for your diary:

The Conference is scheduled for June 27 & 28, 2011. Please submit your abstract to by March 2, 2011. Authors of shortlisted abstracts will be informed by March 15, 2011. Final papers are due by June 1, 2011.

Conference plan

Each paper will be presented by someone (‘the presenter’) other than the paper-writer (10 minutes). Thereafter, it will be commented upon by a discussant (10 minutes), and the paper-writer will have the opportunity to respond (10 minutes). The floor will be open to Q&A thereafter (15 minutes). Since this conference will depend intensively on participants’ active engagement with one another’s work, preference will be given to those who are willing to take on all three roles.

Abstract guidelines

Please use the abstract submission form to submit your abstract.

Content: Your abstract should describe which of the two themes the paper is more closely aligned with, and why. It should also indicate the analytical literature that the paper is likely to refer to, as well as the research method(s) used. Also, please also indicate while applying whether, in addition to writing a paper, you will be willing to act as a discussant or presenter, or both.

Word limit: Maximum 500 words, excluding bibliographic reference.

Keywords: Abstract keywords (not exceeding four) should include country/ region of focus. These should help us understand what the paper is about, so please avoid generic terms such as ‘governance’, ‘state’, ‘politics’ (which are likely to be applicable to all papers!)


We are happy to be able to take care of the accommodation and meals of the paper-presenters for the two days of the Conference.

Papers presented at the Conference will be eligible to be considered for publication in a Special Issue of the Oxford Development Studies, subject to the standard procedures.


Bayat, A (1997) Un-civil society: the politics of the ‘informal people’, Third World Quarterly, 18(1): 53-72

Chabal, P and J-P Daloz (1999) Africa Works: Disorder as Political Instrument. Oxford and Indiana: James Curry and Indiana University Press.

Chatterjee, P. (2004) The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World. New York: Columbia University Press.

Fung, A. and Wright, E. (2003) Deepening Democracy: Innovations in Empowered Participatory Governance. London: Verso.

Harriss, J., K. Stokke and O. Tornquist (2004) (Eds.) Politicising democracy: The new local politics of democratization. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hickey, S. and G. Mohan (2004) (Eds.) Participation: from Tyranny to Transformation. London: Zed.

Houtzager, P & M. Moore (2003) (Eds.), Changing paths: International development and the new politics of inclusion. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Leftwich, A. and K. Sen (2010) Beyond Institutions: Institutions and organizations in the politics and economics of growth and poverty reduction- a thematic synthesis of research evidence. Accessed from February 5, 2011.

Leonard, D. and Samantar, M. (forthcoming) 'What Can the Somalis Teach Us About the Social Contract and the State', Development and Change, 42(2)

Roberts, B and A. Portes (2006) Coping with the Free Market City: Collective Action in Six Latin American cities at the End of the Twentieth Century, Latin American Research Review, 41(2): 57-83

Santos, B. (2005) Democratizing Democracy: Beyond the Liberal Democratic Canon. London: Verso.

Scott, J. (1990) Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Unsworth, S. (2010) An Upside View of Governance. Accessed from
February 4, 2010

Webster, N. & L. Engberg-Pedersen (2002) (Eds.) In the name of the poor: Contesting political
space for poverty reduction. London: Zed Books.