Fragile States

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Supporting Statebuilding in Situations of Conflict and Fragility Policy Guidance

Access the complete publication at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264074989-en

Statebuilding in fragile contexts: key terms and concepts

Please cite this chapter as:
OECD (2011), “Statebuilding in fragile contexts: key terms and concepts”, in Supporting Statebuilding in Situations of Conflict and Fragility: Policy Guidance, OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264074989-5-en

This document and any map included herein are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area.

PART I. 1. STATEBUILDING IN FRAGILE CONTEXTS: KEY TERMS AND CONCEPTS – 19

Chapter 1 Statebuilding in fragile contexts: key terms and concepts

This chapter defines the key terms and concepts that are used in this publication, and examines contemporary understanding of the state, the internal process of statebuilding, and the qualities that define fragile and resilient states.

SUPPORTING STATEBUILDING IN SITUATIONS OF CONFLICT AND FRAGILITY: POLICY GUIDANCE – © OECD 2011

FRAMEWORK

FRAMEWORK

20 – PART I. 1. STATEBUILDING IN FRAGILE CONTEXTS: KEY TERMS AND CONCEPTS

Contemporary understandings of the state
States are the principal institutional and organisational units that exercise political and public authority in modern times. In theory – and in a growing number of countries – they embody the organisational framework and the accepted, stable set of institutions that regulate political, social and economic engagement across a territorially bounded area. But in reality states do not all look alike, nor are they organised around the same principles, laws or norms. Crucially, the degree to which they are embedded in legitimate and enduring state-society relations varies substantially. The definition of the state has a long-standing history. There are definitions that highlight the authority, institutional presence (through law and order) and territorial boundaries of the state (Weber, 1968). Others focus on the “infrastructural power” of the state, underlining the effectiveness with which key functions are fulfilled and services provided (Mann, 1984). Finally, there are definitions that centre on locating the state in society, paying close attention to the web of state-society relations defining how the nexus between social expectations and state capacity is mediated; how political power is exercised; and how service provision and resource allocation are determined (Migdal, 2001). The conceptual thinking in the development partner community has evolved towards the latter, in highlighting the centrality of state-society relations for understanding what makes states resilient and enduring. The institutional dimensions of states vary considerably but what has become fixed over time, with the consolidation of an international system since 1945 premised around state sovereignty, is the territorial sanctity of state boundaries. Thus, irrespective of what else states do, how they are structured and organised, or the manner in which states connect and interact with the societies they govern, their physical boundaries have become relatively immutable. Any attempt to modify these boundaries inevitably creates conflictual situations.

Defining statebuilding
Statebuilding has been defined in the OECD DAC Initial Finding Paper as “an endogenous process to enhance capacity, institutions and legitimacy of the state driven by statesociety relations” (OECD, 2008d). The process must be understood against a background of long-term historical and structural factors that contribute to shaping the contours of state formation and the nature of state-society relations. And it must be understood within the exigencies of current circumstances in the country concerned. These may include, for example, the risk of conflict...
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