Grenoble, juillet 2010

Rethinking the foundations of the State, an analysis of post-crisis situations

In this dossier we present the outcomes of an international conference that took place in 2009, in Linköping, Sweden. Its goal was to question the models of state “reform”. Consensus has been growing that the application of the Western model of the Nation State in post-crisis contexts poses many problems. This particular model of the State is at the foundation of the current international system. While it originates from the specific socio-historic context of Europe, the model is widely applied in post-crisis countries (post colonial, post-conflict and post-Soviet) under the assistance or influence of the international community. The conditions in which recent states are formed differ substantially. Mainstream models of state building assume that state legitimacy can be established and state collapse avoided through international intervention combined with military presence, huge amounts of aid and democratic elections. Realities on the ground lead us to question their effectiveness, at least in the way measures have been implemented.

While international and national actors are involved in the building of the state, local and regional actors are also involved in forming governance structures. They have received much less attention. The authorities taking over when states fail, and ultimately collapse, include the actors of war, such as military faction leaders ; but they also include remnants of the former state administration, revitalised traditional authorities, religious courts, local businessmen, etc., who continue or begin to exercise authority as « functional equivalents » of the former state, at times aspiring to replace it. What is the legitimacy of those actors and how does it relate to the national level ?

In addition to the question of political legitimacy of non-institutional actors, the conference focused on the issue of identity formation in relation to the state and the limits of state sovereignty. The conference concluded with a reflection on research methodology, a discussion about how academic and policy-oriented research can be complementary in responding toremaining questions.

Conference sessions discussed :

  • The difficult emergence of sovereignty in the context of international assistance

  • Sovereignty in whose interest : a shared objective for population, local elite and international community ?

  • Sovereignty : questioning its capacity to regulate international relations

  • Principles of action : new approaches to creating sovereignty ?

  • Post-crisis states and identity : investigating states without nations

  • Institutionalising diversity in post-crisis states

  • The impact of international and local politics on identity formation

  • The difficult emergence of legitimate institutions

  • Governance without government : the institutionalisation of informal forms of legitimacy

  • Towards a convergence of local versus international sources of legitimacy ?

  • Forward Look : Bottom-up state-building

The conference has resulted in a publication on “Rethinking the foundations of the State, an analysis of post-crisis situations”. The idea for this volume originated in research on the dynamics of State reform and transition, which was carried out as a collaboration between two research organisations : Espace Europe and Modus Operandi. Espace Europe is a multidisciplinary research institute, part of the Pierre Mendes France University in Grenoble, France and its research looks at State transition from an economic and international law perspective with a focus on post-Soviet and Mediterranean countries. Modus Operandi is an independent research institute, which uses anthropological and sociological tools to analyse the political transition of States.

The European Science Foundation has given financial support to this initiative, by funding the organisation of an international research conference entitled “Post-crisis State transformation, rethinking the foundations of the State”, which took place in Sweden in May 2009 (1). The chapters included in this volume are adaptations of a selection of conference presentations that focus on case studies from a diverse range of countries. This empirical approach allows us to gain an intimate understanding of the State in its different dimensions.

We thank the European Science Foundation, the Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation, the University Pierre Mendès France and the University of Linköping for their generous support during the process leading to this publication.

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