What we talk about when we talk about political settlements


What we talk about when we talk about political settlements


Bell, C. (2015). What we talk about when we talk about political settlements: Towards Inclusive and Open Political Settlements in an Era of Disillusionment (PSRP Working Paper No. 1). Global Justice Academy, University of Edinburgh.

Download the working paper or the executive summary.

Key points:
• Political settlement is not a ‘thing’ to be designed and applied
• Political settlement analysis as a project aims to be useful for interveners dealing and engaging with the realities of elite power-balance

Abstract: A discourse on the importance of understanding political settlements has achieved some salience in development academic and policy discussions. As a concept, however, the term political settlements can be (and has been) criticised: as lacking in clarity; as failing to do any real intellectual analytical work; and for being difficult to translate into practical strategies for change. This article reviews political settlement literature, and argues that ‘political settlement’ as an analytical concept has many of the flaws suggested, but that the central project of trying to understand the extent to which stopping violent conflict depends on powerful elites reaching deals on cooperation, and the ways in which such deals enable or limit projects of attempted transformation remains an important one. The article suggests that political settlement discourse has similarity with discourses emerging in other fields, all of which are attempting to respond to an ‘era of disillusionment’ in which moves towards democratisation or peace as an ‘end point’ of history, are now understand to have remained elusive despite sustained international intervention. The article suggests six critical research gaps which provide a focus for bringing work across the fields of development and conflict resolution together.

Keywords: Concepts

Return to search all publications