Executive Summary - Researching State Legitimacy: A Political Approach to a Political Problem

State legitimacy underpins power relations. It is an important concept for understanding power and politics, yet research on it has been surprisingly apolitical. Research has focused on measuring legitimacy and its sources at narrow points in time, at the expense of explaining how changes in legitimacy happen, and the people, ideas and political processes behind them.

This paper carves a path through the sprawling debate on the meaning and measurement of state legitimacy, and sets out a political approach to researching it. Explaining legitimation and de-legitimation requires attention to political structures, ideas and agency – in particular, to the expectations established through the social contract, the nature of the political settlement, and how legitimacy claims are made and contested in public discourse.

The paper provides an analytical framework that applies this political approach to a key question for state-building practitioners and legitimacy scholars: whether, when and why service delivery supports or undermines state legitimacy.

Download the summary below, or see the full paper (PDF, 615 KB).

About DLP

The Developmental Leadership Program (DLP) is an international research initiative that explores how leadership, power and political processes drive or block successful development.

DLP focuses on the crucial role of home-grown leaderships and coalitions in forging legitimate political settlements and institutions that promote developmental outcomes, such as sustainable growth, political stability and inclusive social development.

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