Business, State and Society: Changing Perspectives, Roles and Approaches

Edited by: Jodie Thorpe and Elise Wach

May 2015
Volume 46 Number 3

The debate on the role of business and markets in development has a long history, marked by divergent and strongly held perspectives, but also shifts in dominant thinking about what is feasible and desirable. While only two decades ago debates were about the state vs the market, there is currently broad consensus that both are essential. The articles in this IDS Bulletin reflect shifting understandings of the roles of business, markets and the state in development.

They assess the conditions under which new relationships between business and
development actors are likely to be effective in addressing key constraints to development. They explore how transformations towards new systems that achieve goals of economic prosperity, environmental sustainability and human wellbeing may take place. And they also raise some questions about what the end goal of business and development is, and whether current goals are 'fit for purpose'.

The picture that emerges is of increasingly nuanced collaborations and partnerships: business-state, business-society, and between formal and informal business. It is important to understand how narratives develop, what influences and perpetuates them, and how they impact what change is considered feasible and desirable. The issue concludes that working with or through business and markets is not incompatible or unhelpful, but they do not represent a 'silver bullet'. The articles point to the need for approaches that are nuanced, experimental, bottom-up and inclusive of multiple perspectives. More attention is required in relation to the ways in which changes in business practices and market dynamics impact on poverty, inequality and environmental sustainability.