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 political processes, people and ideas 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 applies this political approach to the question of whether, when and why service delivery supports or undermines state legitimacy, and provides an analytical framework for investigating it.
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