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Establishing State Legitimacy and Effectiveness in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Societies

Establishing State Legitimacy and Effectiveness in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Societies

Principal Investigator: Professor Paul Collier, Blavatnick School of Government, University of Oxford

When a society collapses into disorder, it is a tragedy for its citizens and sometimes a global nightmare. In this research, we combine recent analyses of how states build the capacity to function, and how social networks shape ideas, to rethink international policy towards state-building.  The research conducted under this project will explore the role of norms, values and narratives (constituted by identities and networks) in establishing state legitimacy and the effective functioning of state organizations in Fragile and Conflict-Affected (FCA) states. We will also consider how cultures become receptive to particular forms of institutional arrangement and how the supporting values evolve in response to experience.

The bedrock of recent international policies towards FCA states has been the supposition that legitimacy is directly generated by the institutions of democratic accountability. Events suggest that this approach is seriously inadequate. A key problem for the institutionalist approach in terms of coherence and policy relevance has been its tendency to focus on the structure of the institutions themselves, as opposed to the process of how actors within states relate to those institutions and how these institutions evolve in response.

While we recognize that each fragile society is different, we do find that the spatial structure of identities often diverges radically from the spatial structure of power: the former localised, the latter centralized. Such divergence makes it harder to turn power into legitimate authority, resulting in less citizen acceptance and corresponding compliance with state authority. In turn, this makes it more difficult to build key public organisations including taxation, security, law, and economic and social infrastructure without which societies remain poor and prone to shocks and perennial conflict.

A mix of qualitative and quantitative research methods will be used. Statistical analyses will be considerably strengthened by in-depth case studies of particular societies. Country-level research will be commissioned and carried out in-country, involving interviews with relevant stakeholders and using data from local and international sources.

This project brings together the University of Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government and the London School of Economics and Political Science, leveraging their existing partnership under the International Growth Centre (IGC) and the Commission on State Fragility, Growth and Development. The project will benefit from the support of the IGC country offices in the target states and their established relationships with senior policy makers and other key stakeholders. 

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