Decentralisation within the state: a review of theoretical approaches

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    Our review of different theoretical perspectives shows that theorists have conflicting views about the applicability and development potentials of decentralisation in the Third World. In the normative approach, decentralisation is regarded as a necessary condition for better governmental services and for an accelerated development at the grassroots level. While this approach looks at the value of decentralisation solely from a normative point of view and overlooks contextual issues and the role of political factors in decentralisation, the political economy view highlights the apparent failure of the normative model to grasp the dialectics of decentralisation in the Third World. Those contributing to the second school tend to show that decentralisation serves as a vantage point for the power elites to use and abuse it for their own narrow interests. Although the value of this school is generally accepted, in some cases such analysis may be too extreme in that it does not recognize any positive outcomes of decentralisation. Thus, neither school of thought - the optimists or the pessimists - has demonstrated complete superiority. The normative theorists have to recognize the gulf between the rhetoric and the reality of decentralisation and ask themselves the question: can decentralisation achieve the stated goals on its own? If not, what modifications are to be made in order to ensure that decentralisation is beneficial for democracy and development? Equally important is the fact that the political economy theorists must go beyond their criticisms and suggest an alternative model that can enhance popular participation and development at the grassroots level.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)56-69
    Number of pages14
    JournalAdministrative Change
    Issue number1-2
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 1997


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