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Reconstructing our understanding of the link between services and state legitimacy

Research reports

Written by Antoine Lacroix, Gemma Hennessey

Hero image description: A doctor with the International Medical Corps examines a patient at a mobile health clinic in Pakistan Image credit:DFID / Russell Watkins

This report presents a summary of the findings from the second phase of the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium (SLRC) (2018–2020). It focuses on how international development actors should re-evaluate the concept of state legitimacy in order to increase the effectiveness of programmes that aim to support it.

The research highlights several insights regarding the relationship between services and state legitimacy: 

  • State legitimacy is co-constructed, not transactional.
  • Services become salient in the construction of legitimacy if they (re)produce contested distribution arrangements.
  • Basic services may not necessarily break or make a state, but they provide ‘teachable moments’.
  • The state may not need to legitimate its power to all citizens in order to maintain its power.

The first phase of the research, between 2011 and 2017, featured a panel survey every three years from 2012. The survey was carried out twice in Sri Lanka and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and three times in Pakistan, Nepal and Uganda. During the second phase, in-depth qualitative research in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal sought to understand some of the unexpected findings from the panel survey and qualitative studies in SLRC’s first phase. The third round of the survey included additional questions that captured people’s perceptions of state legitimacy, as opposed to just perceptions of government. This allowed the authors to draw more conclusions about the relationship between services and state legitimacy, and propose a set of implications to consider when designing programmes to support state legitimacy.

A doctor with the International Medical Corps examines a patient at a mobile health clinic in Pakistan
Aoife McCullough with Antoine Lacroix and Gemma Hennessey