The Centre for Public Authority and International Development conducts interdisciplinary research to broaden understanding of the realities of governance in marginal regions.

World-leading researchers from the UK, Europe, and Africa collaborate on long-term, cross-disciplinary fieldwork that does not assume that the state is the most important actor in people’s lives.

Learn about the Centre

Established in 2017 with funding from the ESRC, the Centre for Public Authority and International Development (CPAID) explores how governance works in marginal regions, as understood through the everyday lived realities of ordinary people. World-leading researchers from UK, Europe, and Africa collaborate on long-term, cross-disciplinary fieldwork that does not assume that the state is the most important actor in people’s lives.

What is public authority?

Public authority is any kind of authority beyond the immediate family that commands a degree of voluntary compliance.

A ‘public authority’ lens seeks to understand the full range of actors claiming or being allocated power which they achieve through appeals to social norms, the provision of public goods and, sometimes, coercion and violence. These actors include those considered part of or connected to the state, such as village or street-level bureaucrats, as well as those seemingly far removed from or even standing in opposition to it – like customary leaders, civil society organisations, religious leaders, and armed groups.

Who has public authority, and how they use it, are crucial questions to understanding the forms that governance can take and therefore its potential to support developmental outcomes.

What are CPAID's main goals?

  • To promote new ways of thinking about public authority
  • To investigate how governance and public goods provision in marginal contexts function on the ground
  • To translate the findings into effective policy responses


2021 CPAID report

CPAID has published a comprehensive report on its long-term research and engagement in Africa. Charting the Centre's growth between 2017 to 2021, the report presents complete and ongoing research projects, fieldwork findings, policy impacts, academic publications, long-term partnerships, knowledge exchange initiatives and a vision for the Centre's future.

Read the CPAID Report 2021.

To learn more about CPAID and its work, please use the dropdown menus below. If you would like to host a research project with CPAID or submit a partnership proposal, please send enquiries to: africainstitute@lse.ac.uk

Conceptual framework and logics

CPAID researchers have developed ‘logics’ to explain how public authority is claimed, accrued, and employed. These logics have been useful in drawing out comparisons between places, specific public authorities, and delineating patterns. They have been used to refer to ways in which actors and organisations appeal to social norms and provide public goods, thereby gaining a modicum of legitimacy to govern others. 

Intimate governance is the personalised or private aspect of authority. Various forms of public authority enter private spaces and become bound up with family relationships, while simultaneously familial logics are applied in public spaces to evoke social ordering. Intimate governance also refers to dynamics relating to non-kin individuals who are treated as kin, as well as kin who are excluded or oppressed.

Political marketplace is the notion that elites avoid destabilising levels of violence and claim public authority by buying off rivals and, thereby, incorporating them into elite coalitions. When this fails, elites turn to periodic bouts of violence to signal their value and to apply a price for their support in any new arrangement to establish public authority.

Moral populism allows elites to secure the backing of a constituency, by excluding groups or creating an ‘other’ to blame for social ills and misfortunes. This can be relatively benign, or even socially positive, but it can also be linked to violence against the ‘other’, be it an individual, neighbouring group or entire ethnic identity or religion.

Social harmony describes the efforts of populations to maintain neighbourly relations. This likely necessitates adherence to gendered norms and age hierarchies and does not always allow for dissent. It may provide stability and enhance trust but can be enacted in ways that restrict choice and accountability.

Public mutuality is the act of treating others as you would like to be treated yourself, often referred to as the Golden Rule. Much more common than many would anticipate, people often find ways of sharing and helping that are almost instinctive, even in the most extreme social circumstances. However, there will, inevitably, be those who are excluded, because all groups require social boundaries.