State-society relations is defined by DFID as ‘interactions between state institutions and societal groups to negotiate how public authority is exercised and how it can be influenced by people. They are focused on issues such as defining the mutual rights and obligations of state and society, negotiating how public resources should be allocated and establishing different modes of representation and accountability’ (DFID, 2010, p. 15).
The focus is not on particular institutional forms but rather on the relations and relational functions of state and society institutions. Neither the state nor civil society is seen as acting in isolation. Rather, the state derives its legitimacy through its interaction with citizens and an organised and active civil society.
The Citizenship Development Research Centre views a citizen as ‘someone with rights, aspirations and responsibilities to others in the community and to the state. This implies a relationship among citizens, and between the state and all those living within its borders’ (Benequista, 2010, p. 4). Citizenship confers various benefits, including the right to enjoy a nationality; to vote, hold office and participate in political processes; to access education, health and other goods; to access the labour market beyond the informal sector; to own businesses, land and other forms of property; and to security of residence and freedom of movement.
The nature of the political settlement can greatly impact upon state-society relations. In many fragile and conflict-affected states, relations are based on patronage and lack of accountability. The prominence of informal institutions and relationships and unofficial processes result in divergences between formal systems and rules and actual practice.
Political elites, who benefit from patronage and income from natural resource rents and criminal activities, often have little incentive to engage with citizens and to build effective public authority. The concentration of power in a few elites also limits the participation of citizens from public life.
In some situations, citizens may be excluded from public life through state repression and violence. This results in a legacy of negative and weak state-society relations. Efforts to promote an inclusive political settlement can re-shape relations and contribute to political and social transformation.
Much of the focus in statebuilding has been on building the capacity of central state institutions. Attention must also be paid to supporting civil society and citizen engagement such that they can hold the state accountable and make it responsive to society. Where donor policy and funding has been directed at both state and civil society institutions, these interventions have often been compartmentalised based on a traditional state-civil society divide. Strategies and policies are needed that focus on the interaction between institutions and citizens at all stages of war-to-peace transition, from peace negotiations and implementation of agreements to post-conflict peacebuilding. The challenge is to build peace alliances that stretch horizontally and vertically between different levels of society.
Greater attention also needs to be paid to questions of power and to altering elite incentives. External actors will find it difficult, though, to directly influence internal political dynamics. It may thus be more effective to target international behaviour and initiatives that affect incentives, such as management of extractive industries, international tax evasion and corruption. Statebuilding approaches also need to go beyond modelling the relationship between state, elites and an undisaggregated ‘society’, and ask who is represented by each group, who participates in state-society negotiations, and whose demands are being expressed? For example, donor approaches to statebuilding typically have not engaged with existing knowledge about gender power relations and how statebuilding processes impact women and men differently.
Marc, A., Willman, A., Aslam, G., and Rebosio, M., with Balasuriya, K., 2013, ‘Understanding state-society connectedness’. Chapter 2 in Societal Dynamics and Fragility. Engaging Societies in Responding to Fragile Situations. World Bank, Washington, D.C.
The Weberian model of state-building, in which the state is viewed as the primary set of institutions that should be supported to perform certain functions, has dominated international state-building efforts. In contrast, much less emphasis has been placed on understanding society. This chapter addresses the significance of societal dynamics for understanding fragility. It explores how the state evolves in relationship with society, the state and forces in society share power and responsibilities, and the state operates through individuals who are influenced by social dynamics. In this way, states and societies are both mutually dependent and mutually constitutive.
Benequista, N., 2010, ‘Putting Citizens at the Centre: Linking States and Societies for Responsive Governance – A Policy-maker’s Guide to the Research of the Development Research Centre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability’, Prepared for the DFID Conference on ‘The Politics of Poverty, Elites, Citizens and States’ 21-23 June, Sunningdale, UK
How does citizen engagement contribute to responsive governance? This paper summarises ten years of research from the Development Research Centre on Citizenship, Participation, and Accountability, presenting the key findings of more than 150 case studies of citizen engagement. It argues that existing donor programmes fail to recognise the full potential of citizen engagement, resulting in lack of understanding of the complex relationship between citizens and the state that shapes governance outcomes. Citizens need greater political knowledge and awareness of rights and of agency as a first step to claiming rights and acting for themselves. Involvement in associations has been an effective way of strengthening notions of citizenship and citizen engagement, which can contribute to more responsive states.
Cornwall, A., Robins, S. and Von Lieres, B., 2011, ‘States of Citizenship: Contexts and Cultures of Public Engagement and Citizen Action’, Working Paper 364, IDS, Brighton
What is the nature of the citizen-state relationship and how do different kinds of states make different kinds of citizenship possible? Drawing on case studies from the Citizenship Development Research Centre, this paper contends that mechanisms aimed at enhancing citizen engagement need to be contextualised in the states of citizenship in which they are applied. It calls for more attention to be focused on understanding trajectories of citizenship experience and practice in particular kinds of states. It suggests that whilst efforts have been made by donors to get to grips with history and context, less attention has been given to exploring the implications of the dissonance between the normative dimensions of global narratives of participation and accountability, and the lived experience of civic engagement and the empirical realities of ‘civil society’ in diverse kinds of states. By exploring instantiations of citizenship in different kinds of states, the paper reflects on what citizen engagement comes to imply in these contexts. In doing so, it draws attention to the diverse ways in which particular subject-positions and forms of identification are articulated in the pursuit of concrete social and political projects.
See also a 2-page IDS research summary of this paper.
Castillejo, C., 2011, ‘Building a State that Works for Women: Integrating Gender into Post-Conflict State Building’, FRIDE, Madrid
What role do women play in statebuilding? How do statebuilding processes affect women’s participation? Support for statebuilding has become the dominant model for international engagement in post-conflict contexts, yet donor approaches lack substantial gender analysis and are missing opportunities to promote gender equality. This paper presents findings from a research project on the impact of post-conflict statebuilding on women’s citizenship. It argues that gender inequalities are linked to the underlying political settlement, and that donors must therefore address gender as a fundamentally political issue.
Rowland, N., and Smith, C., 2014, Rebuilding State-Society Relations in Post-War States: Assessing a Theory of Change approach to local governance reform in Timor-Leste, Justice and Security Research Programme, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), London, UK
This paper analyses the Theory of Change underlying The Asia Foundation’s local governance reform programme in Timor-Leste. It highlights a number of tensions between programme approaches and the development of state-society relations. For example, the goal of raising village activism and therefore potential criticisms of central government projects and activities for some widens rather than reduces the state-societal gap, creating conflict not consensus. Reforming state-society relations cannot be achieved via a solely technical approach to local governance, but requires both deeper and wider political engagement across society and state as a whole.
See discussion and resources on weak state-society relations as a characteristic of fragility (in Chapter 2: Causes and Characteristics of Fragility, Fragile States guide).
See discussion and resources on strengthening citizen engagement in statebuilding processes (in Strategies for External Engagement, Chapter 5: Statebuilding in Fragile Contexts, Fragile States guide).
Futher discussion on gender and citizenship is available in the Gender guide.
For discussion and resources on political settlements, see:
- Inclusive political settlements and peace processes in the ‘Statebuilding and Peacebuilding in Situations of Conflict and Fragility’ supplement
- Political Settlements (Fragile States guide, Chapter 5)
- Peace Agreements (Conflict guide, Chapter 3)