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Democratizing the Developmental State

Rachel Beatty Rield

Rachel Beatty Riedl is a professor in the Brooks School of Public Policy, Department of Government and the Einaudi Center‘s director and John S. Knight Professor of International Studies.

Her research expertise is on democracy and authoritarianism globally, and particularly across Africa.  She focuses on questions of participation, institutions, political parties, and local governance. She recently co-led the USAID’s Democracy, Rights and Governance learning agenda “Opening Democratic Spaces” research report.  Her books include Authoritarian Legacies of Democratic Party Systems in Africa (Cambridge University Press 2014) and From Pews to Politics (CUP 2019).

She has been a visiting fellow at the Yale Program on Democracy, the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at Notre Dame, the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, and Fulbright Scholar. She is a full member of the Council on Foreign Relations and served as Chair of the Democracy and Autocracy section of the American Political Science Association.  Riedl is a member of the Editorial Committee of World Politics, and co-editor of the Cambridge University Press Elements series Politics of Development. Riedl is President of the Scientific Committee of the Institute of Advanced Studies (Nantes, France), and co-host of the podcast Ufahamu Africa, featuring scholarly analysis about life and politics on the African continent.

Riedl, Rachel Beatty, Paul Friesen, Jennifer McCoy, and Kenneth Roberts. “Democratic Backsliding, Resilience, and Resistance.” World Politics, January 2024.

Riedl, Rachel Beatty, Dan Slater, Joseph Wong, and Daniel Ziblatt. “Authoritarian-led democratization.” Annual Review of Political Science 23 (2020): 315-332

As a steering committee member of your hub, how do you perceive the general topic of the project in relation to your hub?

Being part of this global network, especially the ‘Democratising the Developmental State’ hub, is an exciting experience for me. Our focus is on the crucial interplay between state capacity and the dynamic balance between freedom and order, essential components in the formation of democratic states. My findings, particularly from the Sahel region of Africa, underscore the importance of functioning state mechanisms in maintaining public safety and security. These are not mere preconditions, but the bedrock on which freedoms and liberties can flourish. The relationship between liberty and order is not dichotomous but intricately connected, a perspective that has been significantly shaped by my research.

In many cases, the core issue is to understand how a well-ordered, functioning state, accountable and representative of its people, can create an environment in which citizens can flourish. This is the true measure of democracy – its ability to facilitate and channel development. I believe it is essential, for our hub, to study not only democratic erosion and its effects on the developmental state, but also strategies of resilience and resistance.  But the ambition of our hub goes beyond theoretical debate. We aim to combine these academic perspectives with a grounded understanding of the challenges facing the developmental state. By engaging with local policy makers, urban governance institutions and civil society, we seek to gain a grassroots perspective. This approach will enhance our understanding of the challenges as they are experienced on the ground, the expectations placed on the state, and the state’s own constraints in promoting development while being the conduit through which democracy is exercised.

How do you relate to other hubs?

Our hub’s relationship with others in the network is fundamentally shaped by our focus on the interplay between state security, public order, and democratic practices, a theme that resonates globally. Across the network, we see economic development often fostering inequality, leading to adverse effects like populism and exclusionary nationalism, which threaten democratic integrity. Our hub emphasises the political and economic dimensions of development, exploring how they influence democracy. By collaborating with other hubs, we gain diverse perspectives on how states manage their capacity and resources, and who benefits from these policies. This collaborative approach will definitely enrich our understanding of the challenges democratic states face, helping us to develop more equitable and inclusive strategies.