The Legal Empowerment Paradoxy? : A Critical Exploration of Power Imbalances in the Legal Empowerment Discourse from a Global North/South Perspective

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Statsvetenskapliga institutionen

Abstract: Legal empowerment as a theoretical and practical concept has gained increasing attention in international development. Due to the shifting aid paradigm, caused by the rising of South-South cooperation, legal empowerment’s proposed bottom-up character has challenged the larger conventional top-down approaches to development that traditionally have dominated the development agenda. Nevertheless, studies examining legal empowerment have failed to analyse whether the concept is produced in a top-down setting and hence omitted possible power imbalances that the discourse might be hiding. By conducting a critical discourse analysis through applying postcolonial theory, the dissertation critically explores the concept on a sample of public policy documents by two of the largest legal empowerment donors, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. The thesis analyses both how the donors approach the concept and how the discourse may distinguish in their approaches. Furthermore, it examines how power imbalances in the legal empowerment discourse might emerge from a Global North/South perspective. The study finds that the policies from both development banks do not discursively produce legal empowerment in significantly different ways, which moreover forswears the premise that the South-South development cooperation is to be essentially distinctive from the North-South cooperation. Furthermore, the both discourses were found to (re)produce postcolonial narratives that reduce the ‘subjects’ in the discourse into homogenous groups which could somewhat dispute the essence of the concept.

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