Riker in the Tropics: Revisiting the Theory of Political Coalitions (1962)
As part of DLP’s coalitions series, this paper revisits one of the earliest attempts to develop a theory of political coalitions, or perhaps a political theory of coalitions – William Riker’s classic account of The Theory of Political Coalitions, first published in the early 1960s. While Riker’s account focused essentially on legislative and electoral coalitions in stable institutional environments, many of the insights and questions in the book – such as, size, duration, stability, and coherence of goals – remain relevant for a wide range of reform and developmental coalitions in the politics of developing countries.
This is illustrated in the findings of a DLP coalitions workshop report published on the website recently, which reviewed contemporary forms and experiences of coalitions for change in both developing and developed countries, and the lessons for policy-makers and practitioners. The present paper reviews Riker’s theory, assesses its limitations, and suggests a series of important issues that require attention.
The third paper in the series – a review of the literature on ‘reform coalitions’ – will follow, laying out the basis for a comparative research project dealing with how donors have worked to promote reform or developmental coalitions in a variety of sectors and issue areas, the outcome of that work, and the lessons for policy and practice that flow from those experiences.
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