Erum Haider

Electricity, Citizenship and the Politics of Privatization in South Asia

Erum Haider photo

April 8, 2021, 12-1 PM CDT
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Erum Haider, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Environmental Studies, College of Wooster, OH

Karachi as seen from NASA at nightThe ability to maintain political control over public goods is at the heart of the debate on distributive politics. Scholarship on patronage suggests that citizens’ dependence on political representatives for selective benefits leads to a perverse form of accountability. The privatization of service delivery is offered as a potential solution to remove debilitating effects of political influence on economic distribution. However, I argue that privatization can diminish the ability of citizens to voice dissatisfaction with public goods, and to be substantively represented by the state. I find that the economic redistributive effects notwithstanding, the political effects of privatization are under-theorized. This lecture will examine electricity privatization in Pakistan to answer the question – what happens to the relationship between citizens and their representatives, when the latter no long influence distributive outcomes? I suggest that privatization diminishes the ability of citizens to use political representatives to lobby for better provision. I present findings from over twelve months of qualitative research from Karachi and Lahore, Pakistan. I also use a unique spatial dataset of 25,000 service delivery clusters across the city, and an original survey and survey experiment (N~1000) to demonstrate the value of multi-method approaches to understanding citizenship in hybrid service delivery regimes. This work contributes to scholarship on spatial inequality in cities, local service delivery, and the unique phenomenon of privatization in weak regulatory contexts.

Erum Haider is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and Environmental Studies at the College of Wooster, OH. Her doctoral research and book project examine the ability of citizens to use political representatives to lobby for better provision. Her research primarily takes place in Karachi, Pakistan. Dr. Haider received her Ph.D. in Government from Georgetown University and is a former USIP Jennings-Randolph Peace Scholar. Her work has been funded by the International Growth Center, LSE, and the American Institute for Pakistan Studies.

Co-sponsored by the South Asia Research Collective.