International Statebuilding and Agency: The Rise of Society-Based Approaches to Intervention

David Chandler


This paper seeks to draw out an understanding of the role of the shift to the social or societal sphere in international statebuilding discourses. It suggests that this shift can be broadly located as taking place in the last years of the 1990s, with greater disillusionment with institutionalist approaches suggesting that Western or international actors could resolve problems of development, democracy and peace through the export of liberal institutions. As we have shifted away from ideas of “quick fixes”, “early exits” and understandings of the ease with which liberal values and institutions can be exported, so we have discovered the importance of society or of local agency on the ground. It is suggested here that this greater sensitivity to the “limits of liberalism” has facilitated a greater focus on the agency and choice-making of the subaltern subjects of international statebuilding. However, this focus on the agency of the non-Western or post-conflict “Other” has merely facilitated the evasion of Western responsibility for the outcomes of statebuilding interventions as well as providing a framework enabling more intrusive intervention, operating precisely upon this agency and its societal influences.

Keywords: Civil society, International State building, Society-based Approaches to Intervention, Culture and Development, Problem of Autonomy

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