How do aid donors interact with the political settlements of the countries in which they operate? Do they have any kind of moral obligation to act in certain ways but not others? If so, what logic of assistance should guide their choice of behaviour? This paper aims to establish a basic conceptual framework for answering these questions. It is inspired by the strange irony that political settlements theory has been financially promoted by donors – in particular the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) – and yet the researchers who work on refining and testing the theory tend to use it as a national-level analytical tool which does not adequately address the influence of such transnational forces as aid donors themselves. This is not a new critique of political settlements, but in this paper I hope to contribute the seeds of a new analytical map for developing some preliminary responses to the original sin of donor-funded political settlements research. In addition, I question whether the conventional practical implications drawn from this kind of work withstand ethical scrutiny. This is not to say that the proponents and users of the theory are morally suspect; only that a bit more attention may need to be paid to the ethics of assistance which arise from settlements research.

From my upcoming ESID working paper “The role and responsibility of foreign aid in recipient political settlements”.