Peacebuilding supports the emergence of stable political community in states and regions struggling with a legacy of violent conflict. This then raises the question of what political community might mean in the state in question. International peacebuilding operations have answered that question in terms of the promotion of conventional state-building along the lines of the Western Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) model as the best path out of post-conflict state fragility and towards sustainable development and peace. This article argues for peacebuilding beyond notions of the liberal peace and constructions of the liberal state. Rather than thinking in terms of fragile states, it might be theoretically and practically more fruitful to think in terms of hybrid political orders, drawing on the resilience embedded in the communal life of societies within so-called fragile regions of the global South. This re-conceptualization opens new options for peacebuilding and for state formation as building political community.
This article examines the rationale and underlying assumptions of this mainstream discourse on fragile states. We argue that the conventional perception of so-called fragile states as an obstacle to the maintenance of peace and development can be far too short-sighted, as is its corollary, the promotion of conventional state-building along the lines of the western OECD state model as the best means of sustainable development and peace within all societies. State fragility discourse and state-building policies are oriented towards the western-style Weberian/Westphalian state. Yet this form of statehood hardly exists in reality beyond the OECD world. Many of the countries in the ‘rest’ of the world are political entities that do not resemble the model western state. In this article it is proposed that these states should not be considered from the perspective of being ‘not yet properly built’ or having ‘already failed again’. Rather than thinking in terms of fragile or failed states, it might be theoretically and practically more fruitful to think in terms of hybrid political orders. This re-conceptualisation opens new options for conflict prevention and development, as well as for a new type of state-building.
The hybrid nature of many contemporary violent conflicts in the Global South has to be taken into account when it comes to conflict prevention, conflict transformation and post-conflict peacebuilding. More attention must be given to non-state traditional actors and methods – and their combination with modern forms of conflict transformation, be they state-based or civil-society-based. In the same way as the analysis of violent conflict has to overcome a state-centric perspective, so have the approaches to the control of violence and the nonviolent conduct of conflict. Up to now, traditional approaches to conflict transformation have not been adequately addressed by scholarly research and political practice. For the most part they are widely ignored, although empirical evidence from relatively successful cases of conflict transformation demonstrate their practical relevance. This paper aims at a critical assessment of both the potentials and limits of traditional approaches to conflict transformation in the context of contemporary violent conflicts in the Global South. It is written in the tradition and context of western thinking about politics in general and conflict transformation in particular. Hence it presents a very specific and narrow perspective on these issues, albeit one that conventionally is taken for granted. Western thinking has become so overwhelmingly predominant in the modern world that it appears as the universal model, whereas other ways of thinking necessarily are merely perceived as ‘the other’ of, or ‘different from’, the western approach. The standard is set by western conceptual frameworks and western ways of communicating the issues at stake, not least in the field of peace and conflict studies.