Foreign Aid and State-Society Relations: Theory, Evidence, and New Directions for Research

Robert A. Blair, Matthew S. Winters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A prominent body of scholarship views revenue extraction by the state as a catalyst for the creation of representative institutions. States in the developing world, however, extract less revenue from their citizens than states in wealthy countries. One reason for this discrepancy is the presence of foreign aid. This special issue explores both theoretically and empirically how foreign aid flows affect citizens’ perceptions of and interactions with the state, and what this might imply for the development of state capacity and state-society linkages. Until recently, the conventional wisdom held that foreign aid would undermine these linkages, eroding state legitimacy and impeding the development of state capacity. The contributions in this special issue find limited evidence for such adverse effects. Citizen awareness of aid does not directly undermine state legitimacy or decrease citizen engagement with the state. Aid may, however, reduce state investment in institutions, producing inferior institutional outcomes that challenge citizen confidence and therefore indirectly hinder the growth of state-society linkages. If aid is weakening state-society relations, it is largely because of its effects on state institutions rather than its effects on citizen attitudes or behaviors. The contributions to the special issue use a variety of methods to generate these findings, including single-country surveys, informational experiments, donation games, in-depth interviews, and cross-country analyses. Together they address multiple ongoing debates in the literature on aid and state-society relations, while also pointing to promising avenues for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)123-142
Number of pages20
JournalStudies In Comparative International Development
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020


  • Foreign aid
  • Legitimacy
  • State-society relations
  • Taxation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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