Learn about the Centre
Established in 2017 with funding from the ESRC Global Research Challenges Fund, the Centre for Public Authority and International Development (CPAID) explores how governance works in marginal and conflict-affected regions, as understood through the everyday lived realities of ordinary people. World-leading researchers collaborate on long-term fieldwork with partners in Africa, seeking to move away from assumptions that only Western-style formal state institutions can provide the structures necessary for thriving economic and social life.
What is public authority?
Public authority is any kind of authority beyond the immediate family that commands a degree of consent – from clans, religious institutions, aid agencies, civil society organisations, rebel militia, and vigilante groups, to formal and semi-formal mechanisms of government.
A ‘public authority’ lens seeks to understand the full range of actors claiming or being allocated power through appeals to popular social norms, the provision of public goods and, sometimes, coercion and violence. This includes those considered part of the state, such as village or street-level bureaucrats, and 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 for whom, is a question crucial to understanding the forms governance can take.
What are CPAID's main goals?
- To promote new ways of thinking about public authority
- To investigate how governance and public service provision in fragile contexts actually function on the ground
- To help translate the findings into more effective policy responses
Areas of Research
Endowed with funding of £5 million from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), CPAID brings together world-leading researchers on Uganda, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and the Central African Republic. Disciplinary backgrounds range from anthropology, economics and development studies to international relations and political science.
Building on the knowledge, networks, and connections of its members, CPAID engages meaningfully and in partnership with stakeholders in researched countries, forging closer links between academic research and policy-making and providing an evidence base for more effective policies to promote inclusive growth and social change.
2021 CPAID report
CPAID has published a comprehensive report of its long-term research and engagement in Africa. Charting the Centre's growth since 2017 to 2021, the report presents complete and ongoing research projects, fieldwork findings, policy impact, publications, long-term partnerships, knowledge exchange initiatives and a vision of the Centre's future.
Read the CPAID Report 2021.
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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 relations 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 apply a price for 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, as well as moral panics.
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 is almost instinctive, even in the most extreme social circumstances. However, there will, inevitably, be those who are excluded, because all groups require social boundaries.
Several questions guide CPAID’s assessment of public authority dynamics and their effects in conflict-affected and impoverished areas. These questions are interlinked, rather than an exhaustive list, which can be applied across different regions and complement diverse areas of expertise.
Sustainable economies and societies
• How do forms of public authority serve populations in places impacted by weak, ineffective or exploitative state institutions and what are the possibilities for inclusive economic growth?
• How do forms of public authority coalesce to shape patterns of governance, fiscal redistribution and conflict over resources and land in rural areas?
Equitable access to sustainable development
• How are populations in conflict-affected and fragile places affected by the dynamics of social and economic exclusion inherent in certain forms of public authority?
Human rights, good governance and social justice
• How do forms of public authority shape the dynamics of governance institutions, inequality, gender relations, migration, displacement and economic growth? And how do these dynamics shape public authority?
• How are forms of public authority connected with organised violence, criminal activity, exclusionary religious cults (including those drawing on local or customary notions of witchcraft and possession) and rebel movements?
• How could development programmes and the introduction of new media and other technologies better contribute to establishing stronger institutions and more inclusive economic growth, given the realities of public authority in impoverished, marginal and/or conflict affected settings?