Ever since scholars have conceptualised the difference between negative and positive peace, much scholarly and policy attention has been placed on conflict transformations in divided societies. A look at contemporary political affairs shows that we still have a long way to go in understanding the complexities of conflict and fragility. Conflict dynamics seldom follow uniform patterns or predictable trajectories. In fact, fragility pertains to spaces beyond classic nations and affect all levels of societies. Therefore it is helpful to take a close and contextualized look at the political economy of conflict, including the composition of societal powers, interests, and grievances in divided societies. Pertinent factors include shifts in conflict-related norms and beliefs within society, perceptions of different groups, the mechanics of escalation and de-escalation, as well as institutional mechanisms of conflict mitigation.
Oversimplifying or neglecting this contextual embeddedness will likely give rise to unreliable conclusions or harmful policy advice. Conflicts may spread from local hotspots in the periphery to adjacent spaces and urban spheres, or from the capital to the hinterland. As they spread, the cohabitation of different ethnic and religious groups can be negatively affected. Many violent conflicts are encouraged by political, religious and ethnic actors who mobilize identities in search for power and material gains including natural resources. Their strategies often build on pre-existing cleavages within societies. Yet, by no means do all conflicts escalate into violence. Conversely, various elements of conflict regulation mechanisms including institutional devices can have adverse effects on the establishment of sustainable peace, though this may change over time.
The institute’s research on conflict and fragility places emphasis on agency-centred analyses and the importance of informal institutions. ABI researchers consider the multiple determinants of conviviality in divided societies and the consequences and effects of conflict aggravation and mitigation efforts, both in the short and long term. Here, the focus lies not on ‘state fragility’, but on the fragility of societal cohabitation in areas of limited statehood; and in particular on questions as to how this degree of fragility is affected by ethnic/religious constellations, informal power-sharing institutions, or specific security provisions. ABI is committed to in-depth field observations including surveys in an area dominated by desk studies using macro-data. We aim to contribute to ongoing debates in selected countries of the global South by building on longitudinal comparisons.
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Mehler, A. (2012): From "Protecting civilians" to "for the sake of democracy" (and back again). Justifying intervention in Côte d'Ivoire, in: African Security, 3-4, 199-216
Mehler, A. (2012): Why Security Forces Do Not Deliver Security: Evidence from Liberia and the Central African Republic, in: Armed Forces and Society, 1/ 38, 46-69
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