Understanding state-building from a political economy perspective: an analytical and conceptual paper on processes, embedded tensions and lessons for international engagement.

Understanding state-building from a political economy perspective: an analytical and conceptual paper on processes, embedded tensions and lessons for international engagement.

State building lacks conceptual clarity

In the new millennium, state-building has become a leading priority for the international development community. This paper provides a more conceptually informed understanding of state-building, adopting a political economy perspective. It considers state formation and state-building as long-term, tumultuous and conflict-ridden processes that are also deeply political.

The main arguments advanced in this paper include:

  • state-building is now a major issue of concern, but it lacks conceptual clarity, including in language
  • there is a broad understanding that state-building is about controlling violence, establishing legitimacy and building capable and responsive institutions so as to foster a shared sense of the public realm. These are all long-term and potentially conflict-ridden processes
  • state-building is a leading priority in fragile (and mostly post-conflict) settings, but ongoing state-building challenges persist in states in comparatively more ‘normal’ developing settings
  • while achieving outputs are the key rationale for supporting state-building, it is important to pay sufficient attention to the core or constitutive dimensions of the state – including the political settlement, security and basic administrative structures. If these constitutive domains remain weak, states are not able to deliver output functions in a sustained and reliable way
In addition, the authors suggest that donors face at least three significant challenges in their engagement with state-building. These are:
  • political economy challenges, such as corruption and neo-patrimonialism, which can fundamentally hamper the state-building process
  • a knowledge gap about what works in providing external support for various state-building domains;
  • tensions embedded in the state-building model that the international community is currently pursuing
Based on the analysis, the authors make the following recommendations:
  • while state formation and state-building trajectories have varied considerably over time, lessons from historical experiences are relevant and should inform thinking about current and future state-building trajectories
  • state-building efforts need to be shaped and led from within if they are to be legitimate and sustainable
  • within the international community, it is essential to elaborate a more encompassing, holistic and realistic approach to state-building that focuses on the constitutive domains and the creation of a nation-wide public
  • donors need to be much more aware of the tensions that may be embedded in the state-building model they are seeking to promote
  • knowledge gaps and the constraints that impede donors from acting on lessons learned must be addressed more fully and honestly
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