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Intermediaries, isomorphic activism and programming for social accountability in Pakistan

Kirk, Thomas (2023) Intermediaries, isomorphic activism and programming for social accountability in Pakistan. Global Policy. ISSN 1758-5880

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Identification Number: 10.1111/1758-5899.13218


Using ethnographic research from Pakistan, this paper argues that social accountability programmes that overlook the role of intermediaries in clientelistic states risk undermining the wider democratising projects they seek to support. It proposes a theory of ‘isomorphic activism’ that describes how these public authorities appropriate others' opportunities to participate in politics and, in the process, undermine democratic norms. Isomorphic activism is shown to be more likely when programmes are based on ideals of civil society that render activism a technical exercise, depoliticise it and blind donors to power inequalities. The challenges the paper highlights are important given calls for development programmes to change by whom and how politics is done, whilst granting local ownership to participants and demonstrating value for money. They should also be of interest to those concerned by the spread of reductive views of civil society activism within donor organisations.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2023 The Author
Divisions: International Development
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
J Political Science > JC Political theory
J Political Science > JZ International relations
Date Deposited: 20 Apr 2023 16:54
Last Modified: 27 Feb 2024 17:03

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