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Research Framework

Investigating different forms of public authority

Post-conflict state-building rarely works - and it is not for lack of effort

The CRP’s research was framed by the concept of public authority. By this we referred to any institution above the level of the family. This could be, for example, the state, a municipality, a chiefdom or an NGO. A public authority is any institution that enjoys the consent of its constituents and has a role in managing conflict. 

Public authority can be transnational as well as local: the concept points to the fractal nature of political systems that operate in a connected manner at levels from the very local to the international.

The Conflict Research Programme investigated how different forms of public authority actually function; we defined the way that public authority functions as a ‘logic’ and we argued that levels of violence and insecurity tend to depend on the nature of the different logics. 

Our analysis of the functioning of public authority and the drivers are outlined in three logics:

1. The Political Marketplace

The first logic is what we termed the political marketplace; it refers to a system in which monetised transactional politics has become systematic and in which the associated political networks and bargaining reduce institutionalised politics to a subordinate position. It is typically found in violent rentier political economies, in which political loyalties and services are sold to the highest bidder in a competitive manner.

For more information read Professor de Waal's policy brief: Introduction to the Political Marketplace for policy makers.

2. Identity Politics

The second logic is ‘identity politics’ – the claim to power on the basis of exclusive and singular identities, which is typically found in militarised rentier political marketplaces. These can be through clans (Somalia) or religious affiliation (Syria) that is propelled forward in violent conflict – a process some call ‘sectarianization.’ 

For more information, read Professor Kaldor's blog on Identity Politics and the Political Marketplace.

3. Civicness

The third logic we introduced was the concept of civicness which works in opposition to the first two logics. It consists in political and societal manifestations of the values of humanity and non-violence, open debate, and the production of public goods including justice and humanitarian action.

Civicness has many manifestations, for example the existing concepts of citoyenneté (in the DRC) and madani (in Syria), and is found in diverse forms in the political vernaculars and societal practices of different countries, including those undergoing armed conflict. 

For more information about civicness, read Professor Kaldor's blog on The phenomenon of civicness and researching its advancement.

How does Conflict differ from Violence?

As well as using the lens of these logics to examine public authority in our sites of study, perhaps the most distinctive contribution of the CRP will be a fundamental concern with the difference between conflict and violence.

Conflict is to be found in any society and is a necessary part of political contestation and social change; the main role of public authority is to manage conflict.

Violence has many forms and manifestations—political, criminal, societal, gendered—and intersects with the logics of the political marketplace and moral populism. Widespread violence is a social condition in which violence becomes embedded in a range of different kinds of social, political and personal relationships. Violence is not necessarily an expression of conflict. Indeed violence may close down conflict, making it impossible to engage in a public debate about how to address deep-seated grievances. Widespread conflict may provide a conducive environment for violence but the drivers of violence rarely map onto the causes of conflict.


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