CfP for a Panel on ‚Fresh Perspectives on Statebuilding‘

International interventions and statebuilding projects are basically top-down endeavours – and thus is the way they have been conceptualised by the bulk of mainstream literature. Even works on the so-called civil society which claim to look at the phenomenon of statebuilding from a bottom-up perspective are limited in the way that they are based on a predominantly Western image of what a an organised society as opposed to a state is. It seems highly likely that the focus on externally-given frameworks might not be sufficient to capture the rich variety of social practices that underlie statebuilding processes in post-conflict spaces. The panel(s) aims at transcending the mainstream approaches by widening the focus of research in three possible ways:
(1) Beyond the formal and the legal sphere: Statebuilding is about more than formal institutions and legal frameworks. Indeed, as long as these institutions are not socially accepted the process-determining practices may actually exist outside the formal sphere or consist in a dynamic interaction between the formal and the informal. In contexts where this is the case it is not enough to merely map informal institutions as anomalies or deviants which derive either from local spoiler behaviour or from technically under-optimized interventions. While often informal behaviour is explained by pointing at traditional, i.e. \’backward\‘, practices prevailing in societies and illegal practices are traced back to greedy elites, looking into specific cases might well reveal that the informality or illegality of social practices is an effect of newly established rules that contradict local understandings of legitimacy. In this sense, \’criminal\‘ behaviour is often determined by what internationals declare as illegal, even if the social practices have not changed (e.g. border-crossing trade, communal rights of land use). We invite studies that explore state-relevant practices and the loci of political rule taking into account that these might be found within formal as well as informal institutions.
(2) Beyond temporal and spatial reductionism: In conceptualising international statebuilding, mainstream studies are prone to neglect the long-term structures, cultural particularities and wider influences which reach beyond the immediate post-conflict situation – temporally as well as spatially. Although \’conflict\‘ is doubtlessly a specific and important condition in post-conflict spaces and although the intervention itself does have a strong and undeniable impact on the post-conflict statebuilding process, these are not the only conditions into which social practices are embedded. Traditional or cultural practices, institutions reaching back to pre-conflict times, more general processes of transformation in a specific region, or global paradigm shifts are at work, too, but are under-acknowledged. We invite papers that evolve around the idea that social processes in post-conflict spaces might rest upon non-conflict conditions and that take wider cultural, historical and other processes into account.
(3) Beyond the one-dimensional understanding of social practices: The effects of international interventions on states are anything but the one-dimensional results of clearly bounded, intended, top-down practices by international statebuilders. Indeed, bottom-up approaches to the effects of statebuilding show quite surprising results. Unintended practices may have strong implications for stateness; intentional social practices may also have unintended effects; local practices of resistance may lead to an unexpected strengthening of the state; while hegemonic (international) strategies may have quite contrarian results; and so on. We invite open approaches which do not pre-determine their outcome by merely focussing on what is at hand at first sight but dare to take routes off the beaten track.

If you are interested in proposing a paper, please send an abstract with all the relevant institutional information to the following co-convenors by Friday, May 25th, 2007. Berit Bliesemann de Guevara, Institute for International Politics, Helmut Schmidt University, Hamburg. Email:; David Chandler, Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster, London. Email: