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Peacebuilding, the local, and the international: a colonial or a postcolonial rationality?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-16
Number of pages14
Issue number1
PublishedFeb 2013

King's Authors


There is much debate in the peacebuilding literature on the question of agency and its locations. Given the interventionist context of peacebuilding operations and the overwhelming presence of ‘internationals’ on the scene, the ‘local’ factor might easily be seen as being subsumed at best and totally negated at worst. Operations of peacebuilding can be interpreted as being driven by a colonial rationality wherein the imperative to govern precedes and informs practices on the ground. One response is to suggest ‘hybrid agency’ as a form of articulation that questions a dichotomous representation of the local and the liberal/universal. Another is to suggest that peacebuilding practices aim towards capacity-building and hence the enablement of agency in the post-conflict context. The article argues for a conceptualisation of agency that takes its starting point from the ‘international’ as a distinctive location of politics. Doing so enables a differentiation; on the one hand the colonial rationality that places primacy in the governing potentials of external intervention, and on the other a postcolonial rationality that derives its discourse from the postcolonial international and that hence places primacy on the politics of self-determination. How ‘the international’ is invoked hence makes a difference to practices constitutive of responses to conflict: practices of peacebuilding tend towards a focus on the government of populations and remain driven by a late modern form of colonial rationality; while practices that focus on conflict resolution recognise the political subject of postcoloniality and hence focus on the politics of conflict and not its government.

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