The Imagined Agent of Peace: Frictions in Peacebuilding through Civil Society Strengthening
London, UK : Routledge
InBjörkdahl, A.; Hoglund, K.; Lijn, J. van der (ed.), Peacebuilding and Friction: Global and Local Encounters in Post Conflict Societies, pp. 103-119
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Lijn, J. van der
Björkdahl, A.; Hoglund, K.; Lijn, J. van der (ed.), Peacebuilding and Friction: Global and Local Encounters in Post Conflict Societies
SubjectInstitute for Management Research
Introduction Important roles in post-conflict peacebuilding are attributed to civil society. However, policies for civil society support are rooted squarely in a Western discourse on the role of civic actors in politics and society. As argued in this chapter, there is a major gap between these ideas and local realities in conflictaffected non-Western countries – both in terms of who important societal actors might be and what roles they play. This gap results in frictions on the ground. These frictions are, however, not necessarily conflictive or negative. They result in complex interactions in which interveners’ discourses are re-appropriated and adjusted. The outcomes of this process differ from one case to the next. We consider Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s (2005) notion of friction to be an appropriate lens through which to look at these processes. Tsing has employed this concept to describe the dynamic interaction that evolves when externally conceived intervention models encounter local people’s own approaches and strategies. Her work falls in a long anthropological tradition of exploring intervention and the local impact of hegemonic development discourses (Escobar, 1995; Fairhead, 2000; Ferguson, 1994; Grillo, 1997; Hobart, 1993). While much of this theorising has emphasised how intervention results in confrontation and marginalisation, Tsing challenges us to explore how in practice intervention models are adopted and reconfigured by local actors (a similar argument can be found in Arce and Long, 2000 and Hilhorst, 2003). During implementation, diverse stakeholders with their own agendas and perspectives re-appropriate and transform those models to fit them to their agendas and objectives (Hilhorst, 2003; Long, 2001; Mosse, 2004). Consequently, the often hybrid outcomes of intervention are usually different from what was anticipated, sometimes meeting the ambitions of both interveners and local actors, but sometimes radically altering interventions and making them fail in their intentions. Likewise, when ‘global’2 intervening actors – often Western NGOs – enter a locality with the aim of strengthening and supporting local civil society actors, their plans are twisted in the interaction with local agents, creating unexpected and unintended consequences on the ground. In this chapter, we explore the frictions that ensue from interventions to strengthen civil society for peacebuilding. To do so, we first briefly discuss the theory and Western discourses on civil society and peacebuilding, which claim global applicability and have come to inform peacebuilding interventions over the last 20 years. We then reflect on the literature that has tried to contrast those ideas and their underlying assumptions with the daily, local practices of civil society in fragile contexts. Next, we show how norms of interveners and local legitimacy are often at odds with each other. Finally, we present examples from southern Sudan, eastern DRC, and Guatemala, in order to explore the frictions that result when intervening actors attempt to support civil society. The examples are the result of earlier research projects on strengthening civil society for peacebuilding, which included extensive ethnographic fieldwork on and in close collaboration with civil society organisations in southern Sudan and Guatemala. The example of eastern DRC results from literature research and a series of interviews with NGO staff in the Netherlands. Interestingly, the outcomes that emerged out of friction in our cases, that is, the local appropriation and reconfiguration of external intervention models, were not only unexpected, but in some instances contributed positively to peace. Other outcomes were less positive or outright irrelevant. As we argue, this calls for fundamental reflection on civil society peacebuilding practices.
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