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Modus Operandi


, Grenoble, julio 2010

Institutional Multiplicity

The term ‘institutional multiplicity’ comes from a paper by Di John for the Crisis States Research Centre. Institutional multiplicity can be defined as: “situations of multiple claims to governance whereby other actors than the state engage with the provision of basic services, the provision of security and dispute settlement, etc.” (1) In itself this situation does not have a political meaning; the existence of non-state service provision in this case does not automatically denote competition or conflict with the state. However within the context of a state that is emerging from crisis, the fact of institutional multiplicity can gain meaning and be of importance in the process of state formation.

Institutional multiplicity differs from parallel governance in that it does not have a political dimension – parallel governance is about entering into competition with the state in the hope of displacing it.

These structures will vary according to their context, for example they may be funded by diaspora, foreign NGOs or a foreign power and this will affect both what they represent and how they function. Parallel and multiple structures are more often found at the fringes of the state: “At the fringes, the institutionalisation of the state is incomplete and the state is tentative, a project amongst competing projects for governance and order”. (2)

The presence of multiple institutions will affect how people see and experience the state, and in the post-conflict context there is the question of the place of these structures in state formation.


An example of parallel and multiple state structures is that of the Zapatista project in the Chiapas. As a result of their uprising in 1994 the EZLN (Ejéricto Zapatista de Libercion Nacional) created autonomous municipalities and parallel government structures at the local and regional level. This governance structure acts to organise the civilian part of the movement, as well as interacting with the military command of the movement and the rest of the Mexican population. In the areas where this system has been in place it provides an alternative system to the state in terms of service provision as well as judiciary, as a strategy of resistance to the state that it considered illegitimate and neglectful of the poor and the indigenous. The Zapatista movement relied on sympathisers and outside NGOs for funds.

The subsequent return of many communities to the Mexican state has led to geographical fragmentation of the autonomous municipalities, and the interaction of the different claims to governance. “Rather than an absolute disengagement from the Mexican state, the Zapatista project reflects a critical engagement with the idea of the state and the nature of governance and citizenship. In that sense, the Zapatista project can be seen as a kind of state formation ‘from below’.” (3)

The Zapatista project is in a sense a product of regional history. The state, though present in the Chiapas through the judicial system and municipal government, co-existed with certain indigenous authorities for example in conflict resolution. As a result of the 1994 uprising the state has become more of a presence in the areas of the eastern Chiapas that are no longer Zapatista, with the construction of roads, schools, hospitals etc.

In this case, institutional multiplicity pre-dates the creation of parallel municipal structures, probably giving the basis on which the Zapatista movement was built. As a result of the high profile instance of parallel governance the process of state formation was affected on more than one level; engaging with the state has created a new notion of citizenship for the indigenous, and there is now a different expectation of governance and of material benefit from the state as a result of the mobilisations.

Related concepts

A situation of institutional multiplicity could in some circumstances enter within the definition of the heterogeneous state or hybrid political order, depending on how they interact with formal government. As already mentioned above, the concept of parallel governance is very close to that of institutional multiplicity.


  • Clements, K., Boege, V., Brown, A., Foley, W., and A. Nolan (2007) ‘State Building Reconsidered: The Role of Hybridity in the formation of Political Order’ in Political Science 59:1 45-56.

  • Di John, J. (2008) Conceptualising the Causes and Consequences of Failed States: A Critical Review of the Literature Working paper no.25, London: Crisis States Research Centre.

  • Van der Haar, G. (2010) ‘State formation in dispute: Local governance as an arena in Chiapas’, Mexico in Rethinking the state: Understanding the processes of post-crisis state transformation Bruylant: Brussels.

  • Santos, B. (2006) ‘The Heterogeneous State and Legal Pluralism in Mozambique’ in Law and Society Review 40:1.


  • (1) : Van der Haar, (2010) State formation in dispute: Local governance as an arena in Chiapas, Mexico.

  • (2) : Van der Haar, (2010) State formation in dispute: Local governance as an arena in Chiapas, Mexico.

  • (3) : Van der Haar, (2010) State formation in dispute: Local governance as an arena in Chiapas, Mexico.

  • This concept definition was developed as a result of the work carried out in the international conference Post-crisis state transformation: Rethinking the foundations of the state in Linköping, Sweden held 1-5 May 2009. This conference was run by Modus Operandi in collaboration with the Université Pierre Mendès France (Grenoble, France) and the European Science Foundation.