Department or Program

Political Science

Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Craig Murphy


The failure of Structural Adjustment Policies to produce growth in sub-Saharan Africa led to a regional dearth of trust in International Financial Institutions (IFIs) following the 1980s. However, the World Bank and the IMF have remained active in this region, continuing their work in local economies as well as beginning new poverty alleviation projects. In this study, I examine whether the shift to the poverty alleviation agenda has reinforced the legitimacy of IFIs in regions affected by structural adjustment. In particular, I’m concerned with whether these institutions were able to retain their legitimacy by shifting the grounds on which they placed their legitimacy from their performance (GDP growth) to their normative value (poverty alleviation). To do this, I draw on existing frameworks for considering legitimacy. These include J. Michael Williams’ framework for examining political legitimacy, which divides legitimacy into moral legitimacy and performance legitimacy, and Jens Steffek’s discourse approach to the legitimation of international governance. I find that Poverty Reduction Strategy papers do not represent a substantive shift from the economics structural adjustment, but rather, justify familiar theories with new methods of legitimation.