Research

Book - Scholarly Articles - Policy Articles - Working Papers

Most of the articles listed below are available for free through academic commons (http://academiccommons.columbia.edu). Just type my last name (Autesserre) in the search box

Please also feel free to email me (sa435 [at] columbia.edu) if you would like an electronic copy of any of the articles listed below

Books

Peaceland - Conflict Resolution and the Everyday Politics of International Intervention
Cambridge University Press. Problems in International Politics Series. In production, forthcoming April 2014.
Available in hardback and paperback (pre-ordering available through the Press's website, on Amazon, and many other booksellers)

Peaceland suggests a new explanation for why international peace interventions often fail to reach their full potential. Based on several years of ethnographic research in conflict zones around the world, it demonstrates that everyday elements – such as the expatriates' social habits and usual approaches to understanding their areas of operation – strongly influence peacebuilding effectiveness. Individuals from all over the world and all walks of life share numerous practices, habits, and narratives when they serve as interveners in conflict zones. These common attitudes and actions enable foreign peacebuilders to function in the field, but they also result in unintended consequences that thwart international efforts. Certain expatriates follow alternative modes of thinking and doing, often with notable results, but they remain in the minority. Through an in-depth analysis of the interveners' everyday life and work, this book proposes innovative ways to better help host populations build a sustainable peace.

Contents: Introduction. 1. Studying the everyday. Part I. Constructing Knowledge of the Host Country: 2. The politics of knowledge.  3. Local reactions. 4. Fumbling in the dark. Part II. Constructing and Maintaining Boundaries: 5. The interveners' circle. 6. A structure of inequality. 7. Daily work routines. Conclusion: Transforming Peaceland. Appendix: an ethnographic approach.

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The Trouble with the Congo. Local Violence and the Failure of International Peacebuilding
Cambridge Series in International Relations, Cambridge University Press. 2010.
Available in hardback, paperback,
Kindle, Adobe, and Mobipocket

Winner of the 2011 Chadwick Alger Prize from the International Studies Association
Winne
r of the 2012 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order

The Trouble with the Congo suggests a new explanation for international peacebuilding failures in civil wars. Drawing from more than 330 interviews and a year and a half of field research, it develops a case study of the international intervention during the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s unsuccessful transition from war to peace and democracy (2003–2006). Grassroots rivalries over land, resources, and political power motivated widespread violence. However, a dominant peacebuilding culture shaped the intervention strategy in a way that precluded action on local conflicts, ultimately dooming the international efforts to end the deadliest conflict since World War II. Most international actors interpreted continued fighting as the consequence of national and regional tensions alone, and diplomats and United Nations staff viewed intervention at the macro levels as their only legitimate responsibility. The dominant culture constructed local peacebuilding as such an unimportant, unfamiliar, and unmanageable task that neither shocking events nor resistance from certain individuals could convince international actors to reevaluate their understanding of violence and intervention. Through this in depth analysis, The Trouble with the Congo proposes innovative ways to address civil wars in Africa and beyond.

Contents: 1. The peacebuilding world; 2. A top-down problem; 3. A top-down solution; 4. A bottom-up story; 5. The defeat of bottom-up solutions; 6. Beyond the Congo; Appendix 1: Chronology

Reviews

Reviews of the book in scholarly journals: African Conflict and Peacebuilding Review, African Security Review (book symposium, with reviews by Michael Nest, Laura Seay, Geoffroy Matagne, Michael Kavanagh Stephen Jackson, Zachariah Mampilly, and Dan Fahey); Canadian Journal of Political Science; Choice; Dynamics of Asymetric Conflict; Forum for Development Studies; Human Rights Quarterly; Internasjonal politikk; International Affairs; Journal of Politics; Perspectives on Politics; Political Science Quarterly; Survival; Transformation.

Reviews of the book in policy journals: Foreign Affairs, Bistandsaktuelt; KOFF Newsletter (p. 14); New Routes (p. 35)

Discussion of the book on various blogs: Foreign Policy (Walt's blog and David Bosco's blog), Texas in Africa, in part reposted in Andrew Sullivan's The Daily Dish; Chris Blattman with my response here and a comment afterwards from the Enough Project; Find What Works.

Talks shows and media reports on the book: Insight on Conflict; BBC and PRI How we got here; RTBF.

Presentations of the book at the Great Decision lecture series in Western Michigan (in English), at the University of Ottawa (in French and English), at  panel on the Congo and on the book at the United States Institute of Peace (in English), and at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (in English with a translation in Spanish).

Facebook page.

Availability

Link to book on the Cambridge University Press' website, along with reviews, advance praise, etc

Book also available on Amazon (US, Japan, UK, France, Canada, etc) and -- hopefully -- in all good bookstores! Tip: the paperback copy is four times cheaper than the hardback copy. And, for US-based people, Barnes and Noble and Amazon are currently the best deals, as they offers a significant discount and free shipping. Or you can go through the Cambridge website.

 

Scholarly articles

Dangerous Tales: Dominant Narratives on the Congo and their Unintended Consequences
African Affairs, 111 (442), Spring 2012

Explanations for the persistence of violence in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo blame the incendiary actions of domestic and regional leaders, as well as the inefficacy of international peace-building efforts. Based on several years of ethnographic research, this article adds another piece to the puzzle, emphasizing the perverse consequences of well-meaning international efforts. I argue that three narratives dominate the public discourse on Congo and eclipse the numerous alternative framings of the situation. These narratives focus on a primary cause of violence, illegal exploitation of mineral resources; a main consequence, sexual abuse of women and girls; and a central solution, extending state authority. I elucidate why simple narratives are necessary for policy makers, journalists, advocacy groups, and practitioners on the ground, especially those involved in the Congo. I then consider each narrative in turn and explain how they achieved prominence: they provided straightforward explanations for the violence, suggested feasible solutions to it, and resonated with foreign audiences. I demonstrate that the focus on these narratives and on the solutions they recommended has led to results that clash with their intended purposes, notably an increase in human rights violations.

Link to article        Article featured in the Wilson Quarterly

The Trouble with the Congo: A Precis
Seven Commentaries, Three Debates and One Book: the Author's Response
Symposium on book “The Trouble With the Congo,” African Security Review, 2011

Abstract for the book précis: The trouble with the Congo suggests a new explanation for international peacebuilding failures in civil wars. Drawing from more than 330 interviews and a year and a half of field research, it develops a case study of the international intervention during the Democratic Republic of Congo's unsuccessful transition from war to peace and democracy (2003–2006). Grassroots rivalries over land, resources, and political power motivated widespread violence. However, a dominant peacebuilding culture shaped the intervention strategy in a way that precluded action on local conflicts, ultimately dooming the international efforts to end the deadliest conflict since World War II. Most international actors interpreted continued fighting as the consequence of national and regional tensions alone, and diplomats and United Nations staff viewed intervention at the macro level as their only legitimate responsibility. The dominant culture constructed local peacebuilding as such an unimportant, unfamiliar, and unmanageable task that neither shocking events nor resistance from certain individuals could convince international actors to reevaluate their understanding of violence and intervention. Through this in-depth analysis, The trouble with the Congo proposes innovative ways to address civil wars in Africa and beyond.

Article             Link to article on the publisher's website

Abstract for the response: This symposium has been tremendously rewarding. Not only do the commentators generally agree with the central claims of the book, but my argument has also generated a great deal of debate. The reactions focus on three main questions. First, do top-down or bottom-up causes drive the violence in the Congo? Second, should the international response to continuing violence be top down or bottom up? Finally, do constraints, vested interests or cultural frames best explain why international interveners have thus far neglected to support local peacebuilding? My response addresses each of these questions in turn. First, I use the data presented in the commentaries to buttress the central claim of the book: that local conflicts were significant causes of violence during the transition to peace. Second, I elaborate on my policy recommendations. I demonstrate that a bottom-up approach would have been an essential complement to the top-down strategy, and I clarify the role that international interveners could have played in the bottom-up process. Third, I explain how the dominant international peacebuilding culture constituted the constraints and interests that prevented international action on local conflict. I conclude by briefly discussing the suggestions for further research present in the commentaries.

Article               Link to article on the publisher's website

 

Construire la Paix : Conceptions Collectives de son Etablissement, de son Maintien et de sa Consolidation
Constructing Peace: Collective Understandings of Peace, Peacemaking, Peacekeeping, and Peacebuilding
Critique Internationale, vol. 51, pp. 153-167

No abstract available, but here is the outline of the paper : "This review examines the anthropological and international relations literature on collective understandings and peace interventions to identify their contributions, elucidate the current debates, emphasize the literatures’ complementary and conflicting aspects, and shed light on their respective shortcomings. I first look at the top-down research, which focuses on two main topics: national negotiation styles and diplomatic culture, and the liberal peace paradigm. After highlighting the deficiencies of this top-down approach, I move to two central debates in the bottom-up research on peace interventions: the divergence between cultures of interveners and those of local populations, and the significance of the interveners’ organizational and professional frames. To conclude, I emphasize areas that remain under-researched."

French version in the hard copy of the journal, available through CAIRN         English version online on Critique Internationale's website.

 

Hobbes and the Congo: Frames, Local Violence, and International Intervention
International Organization, Vol. 63, pp. 249-280, 2009

Why do international peacebuilders fail to address the local causes of peace process failures? The existing explanations of peacebuilding failures, which focus on constraints and vested interests, do not explain the international neglect of local conflict. In this article, I show how discursive frames shape international intervention and preclude international action on local violence. Drawing on more than 330 interviews, multi-sited ethnography, and document analysis, I develop a case study of the Democratic Republic of Congo's transition from war to peace and democracy (2003–2006). I demonstrate that local agendas played a decisive role in sustaining local, national, and regional violence. However, a postconflict peacebuilding frame shaped the international understanding of violence and intervention in such a way that local conflict resolution appeared irrelevant and illegitimate. This frame included four key elements: international actors labeled the Congo a “postconflict” situation; they believed that violence there was innate and therefore acceptable even in peacetime; they conceptualized international intervention as exclusively concerned with the national and international realms; and they saw holding elections, as opposed to local conflict resolution, as a workable, appropriate, and effective tool for state- and peacebuilding. This frame authorized and justified specific practices and policies while precluding others, notably local conflict resolution, ultimately dooming the peacebuilding efforts. In conclusion, I contend that analyzing discursive frames is a fruitful approach to the puzzle of international peacebuilding failures beyond the Congo.

Article             Link to article on the publisher's website

 

Spanish translation: Hobbes y el congo: marcos, violencia local e intervención internacional
Revista de Relaciones Internationales, No. 16, pp. 97-134 , 2011

¿Por qué los constructores internacionales de la paz no toman en consideración las causas locales de los procesos de paz que fallan? A través del presente artículo demuestro cómo las agendas locales jugaron entonces un rol decisivo en fomentar la violencia a nivel local, regional y nacional. Sin embargo, la existencia de un marco de construcción de la paz posbélica configuraba la visión internacional de la violencia y de la intervención de tal manera que la resolución del conflicto local era considerada como irrelevante e ilegitima. Este marco incluyó enseguida cuatro elementos fundamentales: los actores internacionales etiquetaron la situación en Congo de “postconflicto”; estos mismos actores creyeron que la violencia constituía un componente innato en la sociedad congolesa y, por lo tanto, aceptable incluso en tiempos de paz; conceptualizaron la intervención internacional como un asunto exclusivo de la esferas nacional e internacional; y consideraron la celebración de elecciones, en lugar de la resolución del conflicto local, como una herramienta viable, apropiada y efectiva para la construcción  del estado y de la paz. Este marco, al autorizar y justificar prácticas y políticas específicas mientras impedía otras, en particular la resolución de conflictos locales, acabó condenando en última instancia los esfuerzos para la construcción de la paz. Para concluir, sostengo que el análisis de los marcos discursivos es un enfoque fructífero para intentar resolver los puzles de los fracasos internacionales en la construcción de la paz que se dan, también, más allá de las fronteras del Congo.

Article             Link to article on the publisher's website

 

Penser les Conflits Locaux: L'Echec de l'Intervention Internationale au Congo
L’Afrique des Grands Lacs : Annuaire 2007-2008, Paris: L'Harmattan, pp. 179 – 196, 2008

This chapter takes stock of the international intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo in order to explain why it failed to end violence in the eastern provinces. Based on field observations in the Congo, document analysis, and over 330 interviews, it demonstrates that massive violence continued between 2003 and 2008 in part because of the presence of local conflict. The international actors left these local tensions to fester because they perceived them as a consequence of broader problems and as a humanitarian issue. International actors thus focused on national and regional reconciliation, especially through the organization of “free and fair elections,” and they passed onto each other the responsibility of working on violence at the local level. They paid attention to local issues only in case of shocking events or when they realized that micro and macro tensions were linked. As a result, they neglected many critical local conflicts, which regularly erupted into major crises.

Link to book presentation on the publisher's website         Link to article

 

D.R. Congo: Explaining Peace Building Failures, 2003 - 2006

Review of African Political Economy, 113 (34), pp. 423-442, 2007

As a corrective to the emphasis on national and international reconciliation during peace-building processes, I develop here a conceptual analysis of the dynamics of violence during the transition from war to peace and democracy in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 2003 and 2006. I locate the sources, at the local, national, and regional levels, of continued local violence during this transition. Through an analysis of the situation in the provinces of North Kivu and North Katanga, I illustrate how local dynamics interacted with the national and regional dimensions of the conflict. I demonstrate that, after a national and regional settlement was reached, some local conflicts over land and political power increasingly became self-sustaining, autonomous, and disconnected from the national and regional tracks. Thus, peace building action was required not only at the national and regional levels but also locally.

Link to article             Link to full text

 

Local Violence, National Peace? Postwar "Settlement" in the Eastern D.R. Congo (2003 - 2006)
African Studies Review, 49 (3), pp. 1-29, 2006

This article develops a conceptual analysis of the dynamics of violence during the transition from war to peace and democracy in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 2003 and 2006. I locate the sources, at the local, national, and regional levels, of continued local violence during this transition. Through an analysis of the situation in the Kivus, I illustrate how local dynamics interacted with the national and regional dimensions of the conflict. I demonstrate that, after a national and regional settlement was reached, some local conflicts over land and political power increasingly became self-sustaining and autonomous from the national and regional tracks.

Link to article on the African Studies Review's website        Link to article

 

The United States' 'Humanitarian Diplomacy' in South Sudan
Journal of Humanitarian Affairs,
January 2002

This essay studies the manipulation of food aid to South Sudan, and its interplay with US politics: the US is the major donor of relief aid to Sudan, and at the same time it appears as one of Khartoum's major opponents on the international scene. This essay argues that humanitarian aid, and especially food aid, is not a substitute for political action, but that it has become the main channel of the US's Sudan policy for the past ten years.

Torn between its conflicting economic, political, geo-strategic, and moral imperatives, the US has had to adopt a difficult strategy: supporting the rebels, but not openly, and not enough to enable them to win the war. In this situation, humanitarian aid, with its reputation of neutrality and its moral appeal concealing a fundamental vulnerability to all sorts of manipulation, is a very efficient tool. Food aid is especially useful: it directly counteracts Khartoum's strategy (starving the South into submission) and directly helps the rebel movement and army in a number of ways (bringing them resources as well as domestic and international legitimacy). Food aid also has the crucial advantage of fitting perfectly into western prejudices about Africa -- a starving continent dependent on the West -- so that no one thinks about questioning the underlying motives of US relief aid to Sudan.

Link to article

 

Policy Articles

Les Intervenants Internationaux
Paper in Titouan Lamazou, Ténèbres au Paradis - Africaines des Grands Lacs, Gallimard, 2011

Paper only available as a hard copy.

Presentation of the book

 

Peacetime Violence - Post-Conflict Violence and Peace-Building Strategies
Program on States and Security

This synthesis provides an overview of the academic findings on the sources of violence in post-war environments and on the strategies to address them. It distinguishes between unaddressed pre-war tensions, war-induced cleavages, and peace-generated conflict. It argues that current peace-building strategies have two major weaknesses, which explain their frequent failures. First, they neglect the micro-level causes of violence. Second, they do not devote enough attention and resources to state reconstruction (which is distinct from merely holding elections).

Link to synthesis

 

The Trouble with Congo - How Local Disputes Fuel Regional Conflict
Foreign Affairs, May/June 2008

Although the war in Congo officially ended in 2003, two million people have died since. One of the reasons is that the international community's peacekeeping efforts there have not focused on the local grievances in eastern Congo, especially those over land, that are fueling much of the broader tensions. Until they do, the nation's security and that of the wider Great Lakes region will remain uncertain.

Link to article on the publisher's website                Link to full text

 

Kongo'da siddet ve ölüm kültürü (Violence and the Culture of Death in the Congo)
Birikim, Volume 174, October 2003, 88 - 96, translated by Koray Caliskan

Only available as a paper copy... sorry! Don't be too disappointed, you would need to understand Turkish :-) For those who do and would like to order the paper copy, here is the link to Birikim.

 

Working papers

The Responsibility to Protect in the Congo: The Failure of Prevention
Chapter in O’Bannon, Brett; Roth, John; and Bellamy, Alex (eds.) The Evolution of the Responsibility to Protect: Imperfect Duties?, Global Politics and the Responsibility to Protect series, Routledge, accepted for publication, forthcoming 2014

Paternalism and Peacebuilding: Capacity, Knowledge, and Resistance in International Intervention
Paper prepared for the workshop “International Paternalism: A Reconsideration” (George Washington University, October 2013)

 

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