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From Fragility to Resilience: Accounting for the Diversity of State-making Trajectories in Africa

English title From Fragility to Resilience: Accounting for the Diversity of State-making Trajectories in Africa
Applicant Goetschel Laurent
Number 172737
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Swiss Peace Foundation - swisspeace
Institution of higher education University of Basel - BS
Main discipline Political science
Start/End 01.05.2017 - 31.12.2021
Approved amount 545'543.00
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All Disciplines (3)

Political science
General history (without pre-and early history)

Keywords (5)

Fragility; Nation-building; Africa; Resilience; State-making

Lay Summary (German)

Staatliche Fragilität - verstanden als die Anfälligkeit eines Staates für den Verlust des Gewaltmonopols - zählt zu den zentralen Herausforderungen unserer Zeit. Während rund ein Sechstel der Weltbevölkerung direkt von staatlicher Fragilität betroffen ist, erwachsen aus ihr auch zahlreiche internationale Herausforderungen. Was aber begründet Fragilität? Und warum sind manche Länder von ihr gekennzeichnet, während andere Staaten, trotz vergleichbarer Disposition, nicht von kriegerischer Gewalt heimgesucht werden?
Lay summary
Ziele des Forschungsprojekts

Dieses Projekt zielt darauf ab, die strukturellen Dynamiken, die zu einer Beförderung oder Eindämmung von Fragilität führen, besser zu verstehen. Dabei besteht die grundlegende Annahme darin, dass ein zentrales Kriterium für die Fragilität bzw. Stabilität eines Staates und seiner Gesellschaft in der Pluralisierung bzw. Vereinheitlichung von Regelwerken besteht: während fragile Staaten von einer Pluralität koexistierender und konkurrierender Institutionen und Identitäten gekennzeichnet sind, weisen stabile Staaten vermutlich einen höheren Grad einer Vereinheitlichung und Gliederung von Regelwerken auf. Dieser Analyserahmen eröffnet dem Projekt unter anderem die Möglichkeit, den bisher zumeist vernachlässigten Zusammenhang zwischen Staatsbildung und Nationenbildung besser zu verstehen.

Wissenschaftlicher und gesellschaftlicher Kontext

Während bestehendes Wissen zu staatlicher Fragilität hauptsächlich auf Einzelstudien gründet, welche Fragilität zumeist in Isolation von generellen Staatsbildungsprozessen betrachtet, zielt dieses Forschungsprojekt darauf ab, grundlegende Strukturen und Prozesse von Fragilität mittels einer Vergleichsstudie aufzudecken. Das Projekt weist sowohl wissenschaftliche Bedeutung als auch Praxisrelevanz auf.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 28.04.2017

Responsible applicant and co-applicants



State fragility has come to lay at the heart of the international community’s engagement in developing countries. This is evidenced by the concept’s centrality in the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee’s agenda, and its inclusion in the World Bank’s 2011 World Development Report as well as the Swiss government’s 2013-2016 Message on International Cooperation. While policymakers have frequently linked fragility to a range of humanitarian concerns and transnational security threats, research organizations such as The Fund for Peace have developed indexes that provide a gloomy outlook on the state(s) of the world. This applies particularly to Africa, which is summarily judged to be “undoubtedly plagued by systematic state failure” (Howard 2014), and which is allegedly home to 30 out of a total of 49 fragile states in the world (OECD 2015). However, Burkina Faso’s huge successes towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Tanzania’s notable political stability, Botswana’s stunning economic progress, Zambia’s completely peaceful development, and the fact that out of 54 African countries more than half have neither experienced internal nor intrastate war between 1947 and 2015 (UCDP/PRIO 2015), all call such blanket propositions on ‘the African state’ into question. Thus, and given that the alleged structural causes of fragility-ranging from arbitrary colonial borders to widespread poverty and inequality-are widely shared among African countries, the real puzzle is not necessarily why so many countries have succumbed to fragility, but why numerous African states have not. Framed differently, the central question motivating this research project is how differences in state trajectories in Africa can be explained, and under what conditions it is state-making or state-breaking that prevails.The project hypothesizes that a defining characteristic of state trajectories lies in the process of ‘rule standardization’. It proposes that whereas states of fragility are marked by a plurality of coexisting institutions (i.e. ‘rules of the game’) and identities (i.e. ‘rules of the mind’), resilient states have witnessed a process whereby such rules came to be standardized across a politically defined territory and its population. While this novel analytical lens provides the project’s originality, its rationale lies in gaining a more nuanced understanding of state-making and its underlying currents. Informed by historical sociology and political economy, and framed in the language of institutions, this research advances theoretical and empirical insights into state dynamics, not least by bringing issues of social cohesion and identity formation back into debates on state-making. Unlike many past studies of fragility, which have generally treated cases of fragile statehood in isolation and exhibited insufficient variation on the dependent variable, this project avoids such methodological flaws by proposing a comparative case studies research design. Accordingly, three carefully selected pairs of sub-Saharan African countries that are marked by divergent state trajectories will be subject to in-depth research and comparative analysis-both within and across pairs. This not only promises to provide a better understanding of why and under what conditions fragile statehood does (not) occur, but also allows to rethink processes of state-making and -breaking more generally.