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This article examines why the World Bank adopted neo-liberal economic policies. It argues that neo-liberal discourse favoured the interests of key Northern actors, and, more surprisingly, that it also allowed many Southern state actors to maintain or extend their political power. This is because World Bank discourse offers little or no political analysis of the state, instead focusing on ‘technical’ issues of economic adjustment. While there may now be a certain shift in World Bank discourse towards somewhat greater acceptance of a role for the state, there is still a widespread absence of political analysis, which means that dominant power relations will still not be fundamentally acknowledged or challenged.

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