Accepted Paper:

Socially embedded not personalistic: public-ness and politics in Nigeria and beyond  


Portia Roelofs (St Anne's College, Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

Returning to long-standing debates about the connection between the public-private divide and good governance this paper argues that Nigerian politics shows that politics can be socially-embedded in a way that defies categorisation as personalistic, moral or restricted to small-scale communities.

Paper long abstract:

On mainstream conceptions of liberal democracy, the public-private divide both helps define the job of government as the pursuit of public interest as well as specifying its opposite: corruption. However, in many examples -from India to Italy - this divide is observed to be blurred or non-existent.

Despite anthropologists recognising the variety of on-the-ground arrangements, the remains an assumption in political science that good governance and accountability will be achieved through tighter enforcement of this divide. For example in the lingering idea of 'neo-patrimonialism' and the increasing acceptance within political science of economic definitions of good governance as the provision of public as opposed to private goods. Moreover, instances of accountability outside of the highly circumscribed liberal notion of 'public-ness' end up being classed as somehow un-political. Empirical accounts of accountability that goes beyond the duties of public office strictly defined tend to be sucked in to categories associated with the private realm, such as 'personalistic', moral or communal politics.

By contrast this presentation draws on Nigerian examples and debates around the work of Peter Ekeh to show that more socially-embedded accounts of good governance are not necessarily limited to small-scale local politics, intra-ethnic communities nor rely on inter-personal relationships per se. Core concepts associated with good governance like transparency and accountability can be socially-embedded and yet remain essentially political concepts. This paper shares work in progress from a book project on what the West can learn from Nigeria about good governance and introduces an upcoming special issue.

Panel Pol02
Normative politics in Africa