Panel Discussion: The State of the Art on Statebuilding (FB18)

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Panel Discussion: The State of the Art on Statebuilding (FB18)

March 17, 2023 @ 10:30 am - 12:15 pm

The 2021 fall of Kabul to the Taliban has led both scholars and practitioners to question what is really known about international statebuilding. For almost three decades, international statebuilding has been one of the dominant forms of international engagement with conflict-affected states. Scholars have studied it extensively, although from often-dispersed disciplinary and epistemological perspectives. As a result, our cumulative knowledge on statebuilding and our ability to explain its successes and failures is surprisingly splintered. The papers on this panel consider the political dynamics, processes, and outcomes associated with a range of different types of statebuilding — from international interventions and security partnerships to rebel governance transitions — through different ontological, epistemological, and methodological prisms. Collectively, they seek to answer a set of questions about our cumulated knowledge on international statebuilding, including: Given that statebuilding is an endogenous process, regardless of who is involved, what is the difference between top-down and bottom-up approaches? Why are conceptual models of statebuilding so sticky in the face of persistent failure? By addressing these and other questions, this panel aims to help integrate the fractured knowledge on international statebuilding, how it is practiced, and what conditions its successes and failures around the world.

Legitimacy; Statebuilding; Afghanistan; Peacebuilding; Capacity (State/Governmental)

  • Discussant: Megan Stewart (University of Michigan)
  • Author: Naazneen Barma (University of Denver)
  • Author: Susanna P. Campbell (American University)
  • Author: Aila M. Matanock (University of California, Berkeley)
  • Author: Christine Cheng (King’s College London)
  • Author: Romain Malejacq (Radboud University Nijmegen)
  • Author: Jessica R. Piombo (Naval Postgraduate School)
  • Author: Pierre Englebert (Pomona College)
  • Author: Mareike Schomerus (The Busara Center)
The Problem with Bricks: Statebuilding and Mental Models
  • Author: Mareike Schomerus (The Busara Center)
Sponsored By:
  • International Security Studies

Despite efforts to reimagine what international engagement in fragile and conflict-affected situations might need to look like, moves towards genuinely changing the mental models that underpin such engagements have been largely unsuccessful. This paper argues—drawing on ten years of research with the Secure Livelihoods Consortium (SLRC)—that one reason for the continued repetition of established patterns of institution-building, stabilisation and supporting service delivery by governments with the aim to establish greater credibility with citizens is the mental model that underpins such engagement. Western engagement is driven by imagery of the construction ground, of architectural blueprints, of predictability and causality. The mental model also continues to champion modernisation theory and neoliberal economics, both of which assume that, brick by brick, a particular kind of institutions and economic models will create a free market with trickle down effects. These assumptions have not held true and require revision. Changing international notions of statebuilding is thus not a matter of tweaking existing approaches towards context-appropriateness or sequencing: It requires a whole new vision of international development.


Critical Security Studies; Institutions; Statebuilding


March 17, 2023
10:30 am - 12:15 pm


International Studies Association


Ballroom West A, Le Centre Sheraton Montreal Hotel
Canada + Google Map