2021 Social Policy in Africa International Conference

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Theme: Development, Democracy and Social Policy: Remembering Thandika Mkandawire

In 2009, during a UN television interview that marked the end of his tenure as the Director of the UN Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), Thandika Mkandawire reflected on the research project, Social Policy in a Development Context, that he initiated at the institute. “One aspect of what we have done that might last much longer is that we initiated a process of thinking about social policy that relates social policy to issues of development, directly, and to issues of democracy. We tried to make the link between the debate on democratisation and the debates on development, and the debates on welfare policies—which normally occur in different literatures. We tried to indicate that there ought to be some close relationship between these three literatures.” He noted how much he was struck that “people who write on developmental state, don’t often write on welfare policy, and the ones who write on welfare policies rarely talk about developmental state, and those who write about developmental state rarely talk about democracy.” Putting the three literatures in conversation was, however, not explicit in the original research design. Some of the conceptual clarity, he noted, came much later in the research. Mkandawire noted that if he were to design the Social Policy programme all over again, he would do it differently. It would involve making the links between Development, Democracy, and Social Policy more explicit, and getting the literatures to speak to one another. This would be the central message of the research.

The research programme initiated the idea of Transformative Social Policy as the basis for thinking through the linkages between development and social policy, explicitly, instead of what he referred to as “welfarist social policy.”

In many ways, the strands of literature that Mkandawire noted are summative of his oeuvre in the pursuit of a developmental project that is democratic, inclusive, and equitable. In very fundamental ways, Mkandawire’s ideas of ‘development’, ‘democracy’, and ‘social policy’ differ from the conventional wisdom in the contemporary approaches to these concerns. In each area, he provided seminal contributions.


Date: 22 - 24 November 2021
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Last modified: 2021/08/12