As World Development Report 2017 reminded us, understanding how the local power structure works, and how it is perceived, continue to be important themes for mainstream development policy and practice. Power asymmetries contribute to exclusion, inequality and restrict equitable growth. This paper reports on findings from a recent re-study that aimed to build a bottom-up view of how ordinary people try to deal with local power structures, comparing data from 2004 and 2016. Using semi-structured interviews, disaggregated focus groups and local participant observation, data was collected in Greater Faridpur District in order to gain more insight into the workings of the formal and informal institutions that govern peoples’ everyday lives. Continuing a trend observed in the earlier data, the traditional village ‘net’ power structure has continued to fade, providing people with a wider set of livelihood choices and institutional options. However, while we had encountered examples of win-win pro-poor coalitions in the earlier study between local people, civil society groups and elected officials, such cases were far fewer in 2016. Although reforms have been put in place ostensibly to increase levels of local civic engagement, it is not easy to find evidence that these are working. Civil society space has diminished, along with opportunities for rights-based action to secure justice and inclusion. A decline in the Union Parishad’s role and status as the basic institution of local government is a further worrying change that has negative implications for improving poor people’s participation in local decision making, achieving productive local government and civil society partnerships, and securing improved levels of local resource mobilization.
JBS Vol 18. Num 1_2. 2016 - Dealing with the Local Level Power Structure: Findings from a Qualitative Study of Three Villages in Greater Faridpur District