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Complex Emergencies

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David Keen|
Polity (January 2008)

If you thought the point of war was to win, this book will make you think again. David Keen questions the model of war as a contest between two sides aiming at political and military victory, and he also rejects the contrasting view that war represents a collapse into anarchy, mindless violence and ethnic hatred. Rather than a contest or a collapse, war is analysed as a system that has significant functions and that yields complex economic, political and psychological benefits. Some may be more interested in prolonging a war than in ending it. War may help elites to derail democracy and suppress dissent; it may be profitable for government and rebel actors; and it may allow armed groups to enjoy a sense of power over unarmed civilians.

This book argues that understanding the complex functions of wars alongside other forms of human disaster, such as famine and ethnic strife, is essential if we are to reduce suffering and move towards lasting peace agreements. Complex Emergencies will be essential reading for students of development, political economy, political science and international relations.

Dr David Keen is a reader in Complex Emergencies, in the Development Studies Institute, LSE

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"The great value of this book is that it enables understanding of the causes of complex emergencies. It provides powerful, detailed analysis of many specific instances from across the globe."
Third Way

"Complex Emergencies is the indispensable text on the topic of internal war and its humanitarian implications. It analyses how conflict functions systemically and the role of psychological factors in extreme violence. Moreover, despite dealing with such a difficult subject, this book is also a delight to read."
Alex de Waal, Global Equity Initiative, Harvard University

"In providing a powerful corrective to the urge to dismiss African wars or terrorism as mindless violence, this book represents David Keen at his incisive best. In this comprehensive and challenging review of complex emergencies, Keen brilliantly shows how factors often dismissed as irrational or unforeseen actually function to constitute the predicament in question. For anyone seriously concerned with what is happening in the world's disaster zones - whether student, policy-maker or general public - you will not find a better or more illuminating guide."
Mark Duffield, University of Bristol