State-Society Relations and Intangible Dimensions of State Resilience and State Building

A Bottom-up perspective

Background paper to the ERD2009


Béatrice POULIGNY – Georgetown University (Government Department, Conflict Resolution)


Paper prepared for the Workshop on “Transforming Political Structures: Security, Institutions, and Regional Integration Mechanisms”, organised by the European Report of Development in Florence, Italy, 16-17 April 2009.


Crucial social and cultural elements underpin state institutions and ensure that they function. This is true in any context, but it is even more important to understand and truly acknowledge in “fragile” ones. Conventional perspectives need to be broadened and need to look at the multiplicity and diversity of political institutions (formal and informal), cultures and logics through which state resilience and state-building processes may be supported. Such an approach would help re-integrate the “intangible” dimensions that constitute the substantive content of institutions, their ethos, beyond their mere forms. Based upon concrete experiences in different African countries, this paper explains what these intangible dimensions are in three of the sectors usually concerned with reforms (politics, justice and security), and why they are important and should be better integrated in analyses, intervention strategies and aid programmes. An equally important dimension of such integration is that it would also allow better consideration of local capacities and resources to be taken, in particular in terms of resilience, and would allow it to go beyond the impression of “vacuum” or “chaos” too often given to situations of fragility. Finally, the paper presents some concrete recommendations to integrate these dimensions better into the priorities and modalities of European aid, as well as suggest a few avenues for further research on the subject.

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