Removing the State from ‘State Failure’: Mapping Unstable Elite Relations From Mogadishu to the Afghan region

Stream: Panel 17 - International Relations: ‘Fragile’ States, Peacekeeping, Peacebuilding, and Capacity Development 
Date: Monday, 26 September 2016
Time: 2.00 pm – 3.30 pm


The state failure literature, due to its state centric focus, has failed to recognise that the state form is a contingent result of the historical power struggles among elites. In order to examine these power struggles, this paper decentralises the ‘state’ from the state failure literature. The paper argues that unstable elite relations reinforce means of obtaining and reproducing power structures, which are incompatible with the western idea of statehood. To demonstrate the argument, the paper analyses the ‘state failure’ narratives in two seemingly different case studies - Mogadishu, Somalia and Afghanistan and its intermediate region, including Peshawar in Pakistan. The use of Mogadishu as a ‘relatively local elite structure’, and Afghanistan and its borderlands as an ‘exceptionally regional elite structure’, provides an understanding of how unstable local elite relations, regardless if they are receptive to local or regional pressures, reinforce power structures that intensify suffering in the broader society. The operation of power in elite structures is mostly overlooked in the state failure literature. When studied, elite relations are typically analysed in relation to their role in democratisation processes or state building projects. Thus, this paper provides a novel comprehension of the operation of power in unstable elite structures and how these structures are constitutive of the condition commonly defined as state failure.


Malin Karlsson (Presenter), Griffith University
Malin Karlsson is a PhD candidate at the School of Government and International Relations, Griffith University.