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he link between social protection provision and state legitimacy, particularly in post war contexts, has been suggested theoretically (Babajanian, 2012). However, there is little empirical evidence to support this view. Sri Lanka’s long history in social welfare provision and the post war context provides an opportunity to explore this relationship. This study was conceptualized to address the dearth of empirical knowledge on the social protection–state legitimacy relationship by hypothesizing that war affected people’s experiences of accessing and using state social protection programs can contribute to building state legitimacy in a post-war context. Fisher communities in Trincomalee, Jaffna and Mannar districts were the sample sites to explore ethnic and geographic variations in people’s experiences of social protection program delivery. The exploratory study used qualitative methodologies to understand how the state delivers and how citizens access and use programs and in what ways these experiences shape people’s perceptions of the state. Given the complexities of making the causal link between program experience and legitimacy, the study used an analytical framework that explored the relationship based on symbolic values, which underpin both program delivery and experience. Whilst the study provides insights on how citizens perceptions of the state are shaped by every day encounters with the state through access and use of social protection programs, it also highlights the nuances in the link as not only what benefits are delivered, but how programs are delivered is an important component of program experience which shapes people’s perceptions of the state.


social protection, state legitimacy, state-society relations, Sri Lanka

Cite this paper

Godamunne, N. (2016). Can social protection build state legitimacy? Perspectives from Post War Sri Lanka. International Relations and Diplomacy, 4(11), 703-717.


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