Research | Conflict and Fragility

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.


Key publications

Schütze, B. (2017): Simulating, marketing, and playing war: US–Jordanian military collaboration and the politics of commercial security, in: Security Dialogue, Vol. 48, No. 5, pp. 431-50

Zanker, F. (2017): Legitimacy in Peacebuilding: Rethinking Civil Society Involvement in Peace Negotiations, Routledge Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution; Abingdon: Routledge

Zanker, F. (2017): Moving Beyond Hybridity: The Multi-Scalar Adaptation of Community Policing in Liberia, in: Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding, 11(2), pp.166-185

Mehler, A. (2016): Adapted Instead of Imported. Peacebuilding by Power-sharing, in: Tobias Debiel, Thomas Held, Ulrich Schneckener (eds.), Peacebuilding in Crisis. Rethinking Paradigms and Practices og Trandnational Cooperation, Abingdon: Routledge, 91-109

Zanker, F.; Simons C.; Mehler, A. (2015): Power, Peace, and Space in Africa.Revisiting Territorial Power Sharing, in: African Affairs, 114/ 454, 72–91

Dickow, H. (2014): Autoritäre Strukturen im Tschad: Macht aus der Sicht derer, die sie nicht haben, in: Sociologus 64/1, S. 53-78

Dickow, H. (2014): Chadian Identity Cleavages and their Markers. The Competing,Overlapping or Cross-Cutting Pattern of Ethnic and Religious Affiliation, in: Leiner, Martin u.a. (Hg.): Societies in Transition. Sub-Saharan Africa
between Conflict and Reconciliation",Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht: Göttingen, S. 33-46

Mehler, A. (2014): Why Federalism Did Not Lead to Secession in Cameroon, in: Ethnopolitics, 13/1, 48-66

Mehler, A. (2014): Pathways to Elite Insecurity, in: Fieldsights - Hot Spots (Central AfricanRepublic), Cultural Anthropology Online, June 11, 2014

Zanker, F. (2014): Legitimate Representation: Civil Society Actors in Peace Negotiations Revisited, in: International Negotiation, 19, 1, pp.62 – 88

Dickow, H. (2013): Neue Konflikte im Schatten der Vergangenheit. Burundi und der Kampf um die Macht, in: Forum Weltkirche 6, S. 10-15

Dickow, H. (2013): Krisenregion Mali. Hintergründe des regionalen Konflikts in der Sahelzone, in: Forum Weltkirche 4, S. 10-15

Dickow, H. (2013): Machtkampf im Sahel: Mali und  die Folgen, in: Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 6, S. 29-32

Dickow, H. (2013), Im Windschatten des Krieges. Der Tschad und seine katholische Kirche, in: Herder Korrespondenz 67/5, S. 265-269

Mehler, A.; Kurtenbach, S. (2013): Special Issue of ‘Civil Wars’: Institutions for Sustainable Peace? Determinants and Effects of Institutional Choices in Divided Societies, Civil Wars.15 SI 1

Mehler, A. (2013): Consociationalism for Weaklings, Autocracy for Muscle Men? Determinants of Constitutional Reform in Divided Societies, in: Civil Wars, Special Issue 1, 15, 21-4

Simons, C.; Zanker, F.; Mehler, A.; Tull, D. (2013): Power-sharing in Africa’s war zones: how important is the local level?, in: Journal of Modern African Studies, 51/4, 681-706

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

Dickow, H. (2012): Religion and Attitudes toward s Life in South Africa. Pentecostals, Charismatics and Reborns, Nomos: Baden-Baden

Dickow, H. (2012): Der Tschad und seine unruhigen Nachbarn, in: Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 2, S. 30-34