Understanding Peacebuilding Through Anthropological Perspectives on Organizations and Sovereignty

  • Niels Nagelhus Schia
Part of the Rethinking Peace and Conflict Studies book series (RCS)


Why should we seek to understand peacebuilding through anthropological perspectives on organizations and sovereignty? My short answer to this is that peacebuilding is an organized activity. It is transnational in scope. It is a human construction which, in turn, shapes and influences people’s lives across borders, sometimes through state apparatuses and other times bypassing state apparatuses. It is performed through organizations, and it penetrates different forms of sovereign claims. In this way, peacebuilding is about how larger systems and processes influence upon local ways of life. How global and local processes impinge on one another has always been a concern where anthropological perspectives have been able to produce new perspectives and important knowledge. By applying these anthropological perspectives, it becomes possible to analyze peacebuilding without applying a state-centric form of exploration. It becomes possible to explore how peacebuilding is an organized activity geared toward creating and implementing taxonomies, it becomes possible to trace how and where these taxonomies are being produced, and it becomes possible to explore how they impact, regulate, and change local ways of life. The implication of this is that the two anthropological perspectives enable us to understand and trace how peacebuilding has effects beyond just the intended and formalized ones.

While anthropological perspectives on organization concern what peacebuilding actors do as part of an organization, the perspectives on sovereignty are more concerned with how peacebuilding affects social forms. But as we shall see, these two perspectives are interconnected. Through this approach, it is possible to explore how aspects of power and globalization pertain to peacebuilding processes and how they organize and orchestrate ways of life? It is possible to see how state actors and state-like actors mobilize resources from external and international relations. It is possible to study what happens when different systems and organizations meet, and it is possible to trace how state authorities, transnational authorities, and traditional authorities are interconnected through peacebuilding. In this chapter, I propose an anthropology of peacebuilding by suggesting and outlining different trajectories this anthropological approach to peacebuilding could take.


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  • Niels Nagelhus Schia
    • 1
  1. 1.NUPIOsloNorway

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