Governance of Peacebuilding

Policy Field Research

Since the 1990s, peacebuilding has emerged as a central field of international intervention practices related to fragile states. The underlying concept was shaped by shared liberal norms aiming at the transformation of war-torn societies towards democracy and market economies. Respective governance interventions in the Global South were supposed to reflect universal knowledge (e.g. ‘Institutionalization before Liberalization’) and a globally defined Responsibility to Protect (R2P) that became broadly accepted in the Millennium Plus Five Declaration from 2005.

Meanwhile, the liberal paradigm of peacebuilding, designed as a one-way transfer of knowledge, norms and resources, has plunged into a deep crisis. The ‘everyday worlds’ and hybrid political institutions of war-torn societies turned out to be resistant against top-down, linear social engineering. In addition, local agents increasingly emancipated from post-colonial dependencies. Subsequently, new approaches gained importance that focus on complexity and ‘local resilience’ and delegate responsibility, formerly defined globally, to the micro level. Although this one-way ‘delegation’ also is inherently problematic, the shift from a more functional, socio-technocratic macro-perspective to dynamics and agency on the micro-level is innovative as it allows for new insights into cooperation practices between international and local actors.

In the first phase of funding (2012-2018), research at the Käte Hamburger Kolleg/Centre for Global Cooperation Research focused theoretically and empirically on cooperation along the “international-local” / “externals-locals divide” (Debiel et al. 2016) as well as on new forms of governing complexity (Chandler 2014). The following three results stand out:

  • Previous cooperation practices were shaped by a fundamental asymmetry. While international interveners experimented with local strategies of conflict resolution (‘local ownership’), they never fully acknowledged the political and moral agency of local actors, expressed primarily in terms of autonomy. This implicit paternalism broadly failed and led to an ‘endless supervision’ of the Global South which became normatively more and more agnostic. Some of the research at the Centre even argued that ‘non-intervention’ might be the best way to deal with post-colonial ‘traps’ of peace- and statebuilding.
  • The ‘epistemic authority’ of liberal-universal conceptions of peacebuilding has been substantially deconstructed. Often well-intentioned policies did not result in political and economic transformation, but rather in disciplining cultural diversity. More recent resilience concepts, therefore, relate to societal bottom-up processes and include context-specific details in their analysis. This response to increasing complexity, however, has a problematic implication: International peacebuilders find it increasingly difficult to formulate their own preferences.
  • Besides frictions and tensions, the interplay of international and local actors is also characterized by the constructive reflection of difference. With a focus on transcultural learning processes, research at the Centre developed the concept of “relational sensibilities” which looks for new ways of coping with asymmetry and alterity in peacebuilding missions (Chadwick et al. 2013). First empirical research discovered that the building of trust substantially relies on creative ways to cope with ambiguity, differing time horizons and normative conflict (e.g. related to gender).

In the second phase of funding (2018-2024), research in the policy field of peacebuilding builds on the above sketched results. The research agenda of the first three years (2018-2020) puts a focus on the following two thematic areas:

  1. Which synchronic and diachronic learning experiences have been made in the ‘glocal’ arenas of peacebuilding, especially with regard to otherness and ambiguity? In how far do respective lessons learned contribute to globally shared knowledge about successful cooperation (Pathways and Mechanisms)?

    Looking at incremental as well as disruptive processes of change, the research projects of this cluster investigate how international and local actors deal with cultural and normative difference. One focus lies on friction spaces that emerge between the logics of action of international bureaucracies and local actors. These materialize, inter alia, in the handling of mandates for international missions, which due to their ambiguity leave room for interpretation. Beyond that, normative frictions become evident in conflicting legal systems (legal pluralism) and divergent understandings of ‘gender’. Besides studies on the micro level, we intend to investigate how epistemic and expert communities as well as international bureaucracies evaluate experiences of success and failure. We especially welcome studies that are informed by historical science, social and legal anthropology, cultural studies and the sociology of knowledge. Moreover, we encourage project proposals that have a comparative outlook or encompass different levels of action (international, regional, national, local) and policy fields.
  2. Which new challenges arise in the field of peacebuilding as international authority has been increasingly eroded by the fragmentation, overlap and blurring of regulative spaces? Are there effective forms of ‘meta-governance’ that cope with these conditions and take into account epistemic, normative, cultural and legal diversity (Polycentric Governance)?

    Peacebuilding can no longer be grasped in terms of a multi-level-system following the subsidiarity principle or a hegemonic order. Rather, transnational polycentricity with overlapping legal systems has emerged, also referred to, inter alia, as networked governance, regime complexity, global assemblage or multi-scalar meta-governance. Firstly, research in this cluster focusses on mapping the interaction relationships and, even more importantly, the underlying systems of regulation, power structures and authority claims. Secondly, and in a theory-oriented manner, we will investigate to which extent higher responsiveness to complexity and local context correlates with deficits in terms of rule compliance and accountability. One focus lies on the relation of voluntary and binding standard setting. Thirdly, the cluster evaluates whether or not new forms of orchestration or experimental governance increase the performance peacebuilding and on which ‘stories’ their legitimacy is based. The Centre particularly expects added value form project proposals that build on findings from ethnography, organizational sociology, administrative science and international law or work with narrative methods. Moreover, we would take advantage from studies that relate developments in peacebuilding to other policy fields, which are also characterized by the proliferation of centers of authority and the diffusion of power, such as development policy and humanitarian aid.

Selected references

Brigg, Morgan (2014). Culture, 'Relationality', and Global Cooperation, Duisburg: Käte Hamburger Kolleg/Centre for Global Cooperation Research, Papers 6.

Chadwick, Wren, Debiel, Tobias and Gadinger, Frank (2013). ‘Relational Sensibility and the 'Turn to the Local'. Prospects for the Future of Peacebuilding’, Global Dialogues 2, Duisburg: KHK/GCR21.

Chandler, David (2014). Resilience: The Governance of Complexity, London: Routledge.

Debiel, Tobias, Held, Thomas, and Schneckener, Ulrich (2016). Peacebuilding in Crisis: Rethinking Paradigms and Practices of Transnational Cooperation, London: Routledge.