Accepted Paper:

International Policy Orthodoxy and the Coordination of Multiplicity: Translating Reform Agendas at the World Bank  


Patrick Coupar (Birkbeck, University of London)

Paper short abstract:

This paper proposes an Actor-Network Theory-inspired understanding of a shift in international development policy orthodoxy. It argues for the need to reinvent received notions of political rationalism by looking to STS.

Paper long abstract:

This paper proposes a new approach to understanding a shift in international development policy orthodoxy concerning the management of canalised agricultural irrigation systems in poor countries - namely, the move since the 1990s from a hierarchical, state-led approach to a partially devolved model in which certain responsibilities are passed to local-level farmer groups.

Deploying tools and sensitivities drawn from the repertoire of Actor-Network Theory, the paper describes the path to the World Bank's eventual advocacy of this novel irrigation management policy as a distributed, socio-material process in which heterogeneous actors gather around a multi-valent proposition. Drawing on interviews with key development professionals, it describes the ways in which actors including paper documents, organisational protocols, and staff from a range of international development organisations, NGOs, academia, and domestic bureaucracies worked to coordinate multiple interpretations of the value of the new policy, translating and re-translating sometimes mutually exclusive understandings into an ostensibly common agenda.

The paper argues that this ANT-inspired approach facilitates more realistic and less idealised descriptions of policy reasoning which better capture the relationship between such reasoning and its intersecting political contexts, and, as such, represents a marked improvement over dominant Kuhnian-Lakatosian theorisations of ideational change in the study of politics.

Panel T036
Social Studies of Politics: Making Collectives By All Possible Means