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Hudson D., Leftwich A. (2014) From Political Economy to Political Analysis, Research Paper 25. Developmental Leadership Program, Birmingham, UK.

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This paper argues that existing political economy approaches lack the analytical tools needed to grasp the inner politics of development. Political economy has come to be seen narrowly as the economics of politics – the way incentives shape behaviour. Much recent political economy work therefore misses what is distinctively political about politics – power, interests, agency, ideas, the subtleties of building and sustaining coalitions, and the role of contingency. This paper aims to
give policy makers and practitioners more precise conceptual tools to help them interpret the inner, ‘micro’, politics of the contexts in which they work. It argues in particular for more focus on recognising and working with the different forms of power, on understanding how and where interests develop, and on the role of ideas.

Hudson and Leftwich advocate a move from political economy analysis (PEA) to “political analysis.” Through a review of different, overlapping phases of political economy analysis, they argue that the current consensus approach is overly focused on understanding how a given political and institutional context shapes the behaviour of political actors to produce positive or negative development outcomes.

In their view, not enough attention is paid to the various ways political actors might be able manoeuvre within a seemingly constraining political context so as to make certain development goals more achievable. In light of this gap, prevailing PEA approaches appear overly deterministic or even defeatist when it comes to assessing prospects for change.

Hudson and Leftwich advocate in favour of “political analysis” as a synthesis approach. It recognizes that structures and institutions of power not only constrain political actors, but can also provide them with the resources needed to initiate or effect developmental change. In this way, political analysis focuses attention on the point at which political processes occur. It discourages general in favour of a more granular analysis of the specific interactions between agents and context.

Hudson and Leftwich present a framework for pursing “political analysis” in their conclusion. It involves a four-step process, which begins with structural analysis, then moves to institutional analysis, then stakeholder analysis and ends with political analysis. In other words, after ensuring an understanding of the context and key actors, we can ask the question of what political options are available for reaching specific outcomes.