Over the past two decades, the development field has witnessed an increase in the body of literature that reflects on the potential dangers of the development discourse, the so-called good governance-agenda in particular. Inspired by insights provided by discourse analytical approaches some of these scholars point to what they see as a depoliticisation of development issues and processes (e.g. Ferguson 1990; Abrahamsen 2000; Pearce 2000; White 2000; Harriss 2001; Bøås and McNeill 2004a; Shore and Wright 1997) – i.e. a tendency to look at political issues from a technical/economic perspective, and to romanticise certain actors and spaces (such as civil society), thereby masking underlying structures of power and inequality inherent in the development field.
This thesis represents an attempt to contribute to the empirical exploration of the dynamics of depoliticisation, through the case study of a participatory process of policy-making in a developing country – the process of formulating the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) in Zambia. The thesis explores the effects of the good governance agenda on the participation process in the formulation of the PRSP in Zambia, as well as on ‘civil society’ in Zambia, as an important actor in this process.
I find that, in the Zambian context, the concept of civil society has taken on a meaning largely produced by donor development rhetoric and practice. Further, drawing on discourse analytical tools and perspectives in looking at the debates in one of the sections of the PRSP, I find that, despite a relatively open participation process during the formulation of the PRSP, the influence of civil society on the final PRSP document was limited. The material presented in the thesis suggests that the debates under the PRSP were framed in an economic outlook on poverty reduction that significantly reduced the scope for alternative perspectives. This was reinforced, if not caused by the heavy backing of this perspective by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, as initiators of the PRSP.