The politics of rule of law reform: From delegation to autonomy

Deval Desai*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How can we understand the delegation of power and authority – for example, from a polity to an administrator - in a world of fragmented governance? In this paper, I introduce the practices of contemporary ‘rule of law’ and ‘governance’ reform, which reframe this question in politically powerful ways. These practices are increasingly important in development contexts, and beyond. Practitioners begin with the assumption that some sort of administration occurs in the development contexts in which they work. They then focus on how to convene a political community in which to embed – and potentially legitimate - that administration. They thereby reconfigure the question of delegation into one of autonomy – or managing the extent to and ways in which the administrative legal system self-produces. In doing so, I argue that contemporary rule of law practitioners wield constitutional power under the rubric of workaday administrative reform. At the same time, they efface their political accountability.

Original languageEnglish
JournalModern Law Review
Early online date12 Jun 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Jun 2020


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