While the typology of mid-space actors is broad enough to be applicable to a vast array of case studies, there are still some conceptual issues that need to be addressed. In particular, more specific definitions concerning the type of capacities of gatekeepers, how their backgrounds enable or restrict the development of those capacities, and how outsiders can engage with gatekeepers need to be substantiated. The following discussion dives into these issues in an attempt to bolster the conceptual soundness and nuance the categories embedded in the typology.
Firstly, the circumstances under which a gatekeeper becomes either a bridge-builder or a spoiler are not completely clear. Although Kagawa (2020: 75–76) introduced the idea of transformative relationships to fill this conceptual gap, the term itself remains underexplored. As mentioned earlier, Kagawa (ibid.: 66) defines transformative relationships as relationships “based on [gatekeepers’] common ground and social networks”. She suggests that the “criteria for nurturing a transformative relationship include a healthy clan relationship, ethno-cultural-religious commonality, respective social ranks of the parties, and an authorised person to mobilise internal peacekeepers” (ibid.: 72). Social position is a key in becoming a gatekeeper, in particular the ability to exert “a strong influence over ordinary people” and “power to control the access of top leaders and outside intermediaries to the grassroots constituency under their realm of influence” (Uesugi and Kagawa 2020: 38). These positions can be summed up into two criteria: local legitimacy and access to information. Legitimacy is crucial for how gatekeepers connect the top/national and bottom/local levels. It determines whether actors on the ground are willing to adapt the normative narrative of peace according to how it is presented to them by their leaders. Peace, after all, has to be grounded or conveyed through a normative understanding that is rooted in the culture of a community (Lemay-Hébert and Kappler 2016). To transfer their aspirations and coalesce support, mid-space actors need to signify a culturally relevant peace narrative and garner trust from their constituents.
Local legitimacy enables gatekeepers to access information, forge relationships, and establish a base of support when other actors intend to spoil ongoing negotiations (Mitchell 2018: 3). For example, in Myanmar ethnic groups are highly fragmented and organised not only through representatives at the governmental level but also through self-administered areas and arrangements on the township level (Jolliffe 2015). Within this structure actors with local legitimacy connect national government agencies or representatives and the local villages. They are not bound under the constitution and engage relatively freely and thus have the ability to advocate solely for their communities’ interests. The lack of legal accountability raises the possibility of spoiling based on their perceived interests or subjective judgements rather than careful consideration of the needs of affected communities (ibid.: 32). For example, some ethnic group leaders in Myanmar have even encouraged violence against the government due to their lack of trust in the credibility of the latter. From a political power perspective, guaranteeing the involvement of grassroots communities influences heavily on the local legitimacy of local leaders, hence the absence of opportunities for local involvement would block the connection to the bottom spheres (Mitchell 2018: 3).
Legitimacy, according to Clements and Uesugi (2020), needs to be locally grounded, based on local culture and norms, rather than being imposed by an outside entity such as international organisations. This raises the question, however, of whether it would be possible to train mid-space actors as local bridge-builders to engage actively with the bottom/local during the peacebuilding process while outside intervenors remain in a more passive position. Would this kind of resolution process be more effective? Also, to what degree can local bridge-builders be guided by outside actors without being seen as yielding to the influence of the international community, which could jeopardise the consent of their constituent and damage their reputation? What is the role of the mid-space as positioning factor for legitimacy and how is it shaped by political power? This chapter, as well as the subsequent empirical chapters, aims to clarify these questions.
Locally grounded legitimacy can be understood as a hybrid form of legitimacy, combining traditional, charismatic, and rational legitimacy with normative and legal frameworks as it bridges a set of dichotomies such as traditional/modern, local/cosmopolitan, particularist/universalist (Uesugi 2018). It can be questioned, though, whether or not this legitimacy is able to bridge both sides. On one hand, the grassroots feel included, their values are protected, and their voices heard. On the other hand, a common ground is established where international and local frameworks can complement and enhance each other. How international and local arrangements for monitoring ceasefire agreements in Mindanao have enhanced each other to promote legitimacy through the inclusion of diverse actors who could supervise independently the enforcement of ceasefire agreements will be discussed in Chapter 6. This chapter, nevertheless, argues for the possibility of implementing international priorities for peaceful negotiations while providing a platform for the engagement of local actors.
In connection to the ability to tap into various forms of legitimacy, there is a need to substantiate how the architecture of the mid-space (i.e., the network of social and power relations) shapes the opportunities and perspectives for actors to emerge as gatekeepers. Furthermore, the characteristics required to overcome the blockage between different spheres inside a conflicting society remain under-examined. In this sense political power can be understood as an essential yet dynamic and evolving element that defines the space wherein gatekeepers operate. Thus, power itself can be seen as product of hybridity as it is shaped through the interaction of social actors behaving based on and in response to power relations that restrict and enable their actions. As Jackson and Albrecht (2018: 40) argue, the “power of local actors to resist the imposition of liberal statebuilding processes…shows that some hybrid structures do provide a means to subvert externally imposed statebuilding but, importantly, access to these approaches is controlled and moderated by the political power of local elites”. Political power might then be one of the crucial factors that determines whether mid-space actors can develop and facilitate transformative relationships, obtain local legitimacy, and maintain access to information. It can be anticipated that power relations hinder dialogue, especially in conflict-affected societies (Newman and Richmond 2006: 107–108). Hence, it is fruitful to investigate how outside entities interact with existing power networks, clearing the blockages around the mid-space.
In addition to locally grounded legitimacy, the concept of transformative relationships can be substantiated by drawing on the definition of ‘insider-partial mediators’ presented by Svensson and Lindgren (2013). Insider-partial mediators are actors within a conflict-affected society who can take on mediation roles. They have the potential to “bring important indigenous resources to a peace process and […] can complement external mediators by mitigating the bargaining problem of information failure”, focusing specifically on their ability to negotiate out of their specific social position (Svensson and Lindgren 2013: 715). While their study explains how and why certain actors become bridge-builders, they do not include the possibility of those actors spoiling negotiation due to “issue bias” or an inability “to be strictly neutral to the issue at stake” (Svensson and Lindgren 2013: 703). This bias can also be caused by the actors’ entanglement in a conflict, prompting them to evaluate the possible outcomes of their actions based on how those outcomes affect their homes and social reputations (ibid.: 699). Insider-partial mediators are ultimately shaped by their unique social position, granting them power and “pervasive institutional presence”, resulting in “significant cultural power” (Appleby 2001).
What distinguishes insider-partial mediators from other parties involved in resolving a conflict (e.g., ‘outsider neutral mediators’ or actors who are not directly affected by the conflict and can thus be considered ‘objective’ mediators) is their unmatched access to intimate information about the other parties. These characteristics make insider-partial mediators an appropriate substitute or addition to outside intervention, which is almost always present in conflict resolution processes (Svensson and Lindgren 2013: 702–703). By building on trusting relationships among some or all conflicting parties, insider-partial mediators seek to create solutions explicitly relevant to their socio-economic and political environment, creating a more localised or contextualised rather than top-down, cookie-cutter approach. Embedded in the way actors access and share information at the core of the negotiation process highlights the importance of investigating what enables them to transfer information. It is crucial to see not only how information is transferred but also how frequently, and how this information generate impact on the strength of relationships between parties. Similarly, by observing how these information flow, it might possible to locate gatekeepers within a conflict situation. This flow of information can also be considered part of the dynamic nature and complexity of conflict affected societies as discussed in Chapter 3.
The question remains, however, of how outsider-neutral mediators (specifically, the international community) can engage effectively with insider-partial mediators. This chapter proposes a revision of the mid-space actor typology by describing gatekeepers located in the mid-space who can become insider-partial mediators through bridge-building. It is also important to explore how the international community can assist gatekeepers in their access to information and knowledge and in enhancing their legitimacy. Most pressingly, is there a possibility for the international community, as the outsider-neutral mediator, to draw on transformative relationships, fostering and enhancing the engagement between the various stakeholders while guaranteeing an emancipatory approach? These possibilities, including the balancing of power hierarchies, could be the key elements in removing blockages around the mid-space and guaranteeing the development of dialogue. Such questions open the discussion on the following questions. Are these transformative relationships transferrable, since they are viewed as inherent to local actors in their specific setting? Do transformative relationships hold the potential for equal and mutual partnerships between insider-partial and outsider-neutral mediators? Can insider-partial mediators take full responsibility, enabling the international community as the outsider intervener or mediator to act in a capacity-building rather than a conflict resolution role? Under which circumstances within these configurations would the outsiders overstep their mandate and once again simply imprint liberal values of consensus-building and democratisation while overlooking local power dynamics?
In terms of outsider intervention and conflict resolution, the work of Mitchell and Banks (1996) can be used as basis for establishing a sensible and informed approach to negotiation. Coleman (2018) has created detailed descriptions of meaningful skills outsider interveners should encompass to contribute to ongoing peacebuilding endeavours.
In cases where the international community acts in a capacity-building role, and trains gatekeepers to use effectively their existing transformative relationships, the question of legitimacy is brought into the spotlight. Outsider interveners need to consider when and how to identify gatekeepers who are able and willing to receive capacity-building training. This kind of engagement can only be guaranteed through a deep and extensive understanding of the society one is engaging with. It also raises the issue of trust among outsider-neutral and insider-partial mediators, extended through them from their communities. Outsider-neutral mediators often have to deliver their mandate within a short timeframe and sometimes resort to engaging with elite actors with the technical capacity to act as gatekeepers but without legitimacy within their communities (von Billerbeck 2015).
There are various factors shaping the engagement of mid-space actors within a post-conflict society. How gatekeepers emerge in different forms and settings, including their social contexts, social identity, and formal and informal organisations that generate social order, will be discussed in Chapters 5 and 6. These factors return, once again, to the question of identifying and appropriately engaging with mid-space actors and whether a hybrid understanding of conflict and conflicting societies can help outsider-neutral mediators to approach gatekeepers. The following section will explore the potential application of the descriptive lens of mid-space actor typology in practice.