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Claire Mcloughlin

The provision of vital public services by non-state actors is widely portrayed as a potential threat to the state building process. Yet across the world, a wide variety of commercial, voluntary, traditional and private actors engage in delivering basic health, education, water and sanitation. The concern is that this fractures the social contract by reducing the state’s visibility to citizens, displacing or sometimes directly undermining its legitimacy. Based on a review of recent empirical evidence from a range of contexts where non-state provision is prevalent, this chapter interrogates the received wisdom that non-state services undermine state building. It finds little evidence that services can build the legitimacy of non-state actors, or that this in turn undermines the state’s legitimacy. It calls for a more nuanced understanding that disaggregates within the ‘non-state’ category, and examines how political motivations, forms of provision, visibility and attribution affect when non-state services support or undermine the state. Non-state services are not monolithic, and neither are their effects on state building.