Social Protection and State–Society Relations in Environments of Low and Uneven State Capacity

Grounded in social-contractual ideas about relationships between the governed and those who govern, the provision of social benefits to citizens has historically been predicated on expectations of acquiescence to state authority. However, the rapid expansion of noncontributory social assistance in sub-Saharan Africa, often supported by global donors through technical assistance programs, raises myriad questions about the relationship between social protection and the social contract in fragile and low-capacity contexts. Focusing on sub-Saharan Africa, but drawing on the theoretical and empirical literature on social protection from around the world, this review parses out the redistributive, contractual, and reconstitutive effects of social protection programming on citizen–state relations. We argue that program features—including targeting, conditionality, accountability mechanisms, bureaucratic reach, and the nature and visibility of state–nonstate partnerships—interact dialectically with existing state–society relationships to engender different social contract outcomes for differently situated populations.