Given the striking uniformity in the diffusion of social protection policies in developing countries over the last two decades, this panel critically examines the conceptions and realities of the 'external' and 'domestic' in the political economy surrounding such policy diffusion processes.
The last two decades have seen an intense diffusion of social protection policies across developing countries, particularly cash transfer programmes as a favoured poverty alleviation strategy. The process has been supported both ideationally and financially by international development organisations. Much like with policy diffusion debates in the 2000s, an emerging consensus in the associated scholarship identifies domestic politics as the dominant determinant of the uptake and implementation of these policies, despite the fact that they have been adopted in a fairly uniform, largely donor-conformant manner, across the board in a very short period of time. The striking uniformity in diffusion suggests the need for a more careful consideration of external political factors, including what constitutes external influence and how it might occur, the deconstruction of conceptions of 'external' versus 'domestic', and the identification of more subtle and complex social relations of power that transverse both. The marginal and superficial insertion of many of the programmes into domestic political economy dynamics in most cases also calls for a re-evaluation of the conception of domestic politics, who exactly the 'domestic' refers to, and what incentives motivate the elite actors who typically champion local processes of diffusion. This panel invites papers that engage in these questions, in dialogue with some of the research findings of the convenors and their research project on the political economy of externally financing social policy in development countries.