Foreign Aid & the Rule of Law

Andrew Dawson (York University, Glendon Campus) and I have published the latest article from the Developing Conformity project in the British Journal of Sociology. The article is available to all via open access.

This article uses a World Society theory framework to test the effects of foreign aid on both the diffusion of rule of law reforms and the implementation of the rule of law in low- and middle-income aid-receiving countries. Access the article here:


This paper examines the role of bilateral foreign aid in supporting the diffusion and enactment of common models and institutions of the rule of law among aid‐recipient low‐ and middle‐income countries. We ask whether aid targeted at security‐sector reform and the rule of law influences the adoption of constitutional and legal reforms over time (institutional diffusion), and whether aid also supports more effective implementation of the rule of law, writ large (legal reach). We use event history and fixed‐effects panel regression models to examine a sample of 154 countries between 1995 and 2013 to answer these questions. Our findings suggest that aid does increase the likelihood of adopting several rule of law reforms, but its effect on increasing the depth or quality of rule of law over time within countries is much less substantial. These findings suggest that though aid may play a role in supporting the diffusion of models contributing to state isomorphism among countries, it is less effective at increasing the pervasiveness and quality of such model’s implementation. This discrepancy between the effectiveness of bilateral aid in promoting law on the books versus law in action in aid recipient countries calls into question the current approach to rule of law reforms.