Political settlements are often understood as an outcome of elite bargains, and as therefore reflective of the balance of power between elites. In practice however ‘ruling coalitions’ incorporate diverse actors, and elites have complex dependencies on non-elites. Non-elites can be needed to establish dominance, and more generally elites need to maintain legitimacy among the masses. This panel will explore the importance of non-elites in creating, maintaining and disrupting political settlements.
Political settlements are often understood as an outcome of elite bargains, and as therefore primarily reflecting the balance of power between elites. Such a focus draws analytical attention to the roles of national political leaders, parties and powerful business people, however neglects the diverse and complex ways in which non-elites are critical to maintaining political settlements. In practice ‘ruling coalitions’ incorporate a range of actors across different hierarchical levels of society. This includes but is not confined to low-level violence specialists, on which elites have complex dependencies, such as for waging violence and demonstrating dominance. More broadly, political settlements also need a degree of cooperation from, and legitimacy in the eyes of the masses; or in other words, a form of ‘social contract’. The terms of such contracts differ between societies, and can be seen as dynamic and involving diverse factors. They may for example incorporate agreements around the distribution of state resources or the upholding of particular moral norms. Establishing and maintaining such social contracts can be seen as critical to the stability and coherence of a political settlement. This panel will explore the importance of non-elites in creating, maintaining and disrupting political settlements. This will be reflected on through cases from South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa.