Post-Colonialism: A Post-Colonial Perspective on Peacebuilding

  • Vivienne Jabri


It is not coincidental that much ‘peacebuilding’ activity is targeted at postcolonial societies. Some might argue that persistent conflict and fragmentation, the failure of governance, ongoing violations of human rights, and the failure of economic development render inevitable the imperative to intervene in order to ‘put things right’. It is this account or narrative of ‘failure’ that runs through and informs interventionist practices, the remit of which is primarily ‘governance’. This is also a developmentalist account, one that assumes target societies to be in the process of ‘catching up’, conforming to models drawn up in international organizations, national governmental agencies and the non-governmental sector that they sustain. The machinery of peacebuilding is, hence, vast; it is institutionally now strongly embedded in the bureaucratic and normative order of the international. The aim in this chapter is to provide an indication of how this machinery might be viewed from the vantage point of locations in the post-colonial world. This is no easy task theoretically, conceptually or methodologically, and as such, the pointers presented can only be indicative of the content of what a post-colonial perspective on peacebuilding might or should look like. Two structural forces, discursive and material, inform this vantage point: the colonial legacy and its continuing impact on the present, and the unequal structure of the global political economy.


Political Community Global Governance Colonial Rationality Structural Force Disciplinary Perspective 
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  1. 1.
    For an elaboration on the distinction between what she refers to as the ‘colonial’ and ‘post-colonial’ rationality, see Vivienne Jabri, ‘Peacebuilding, the Local, and the International: A Colonial or a Postcolonial Rationality?’ Peacebuilding 1, no. 1 (2013): 3–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. That peacebuilding is acknowledged as a form of intervention that might be conceived in a discourse of colonialism, specifically the mission to civilize, is suggested in Roland Paris, ‘International Peacebuilding and the “Mission Civilisatrice”’, Review of International Studies 28, no. 4 (2002): 637–656.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    For an account that locates peacebuilding in the context of developmental and securitizing agendas, see especially Mark Duffield, Development, Security and Unending War: Governing the World of Peoples (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007).Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    For Sankaran Krishna, ‘the social construction of past, present, and future for state elites and educated middle classes in the third world are mimetic constructions of what has supposedly already happened elsewhere, namely Europe or the west’. Krishna suggests that this has produced what he refers to as ‘postcolonial anxiety’. See Sankaran Krishna, Postcolonial Insecurities: India, Sri Lanka, and the Question of Nationhood (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999) for an excellent analysis of the Sri Lanka conflict interpreted from this particular post-colonial perspective.Google Scholar
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    For a discussion of the post-colonial state and the defining power that the international as such provides, see Vivienne Jabri, The Postcolonial Subject: Claiming Politics/Governing Others in Late Modernity (London and New York: Routledge, 2012).Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    Nowhere is this more clearly apparent than in Adam Curtis’s documentary, Bitter Lake, on the history of intervention in Afghanistan, where a foreign teacher is seen conducting an art class for Afghan women, where the subject is Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’, a porcelain urinal. She correctly refers to the ‘revolutionary’ impact of this particular installation for Western art. Her audience, unsurprisingly, look surprised and somewhat bemused. See Adam Curtis, Bitter Lake (BBC, 2015).Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    This is not to reify the post-colonial state, but to argue that the ways in which power operates through peacebuilding practices may not be through a direct racial definition of the population and hence its domination, but indirectly, through the perpetuation of a local customary machinery whereby the local comes to be interpreted in terms of tribally instantiated customary rule that must undermine the very idea of the nation as a distinct political community. See Mahmoud Mamdani, Citizen and Subject (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), on the uses of customary rule and their implications for the post-colonial state in Africa.Google Scholar
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    See, for example, Vivienne Jabri, War and the Transformation of Global Politics (London and New York: Palgrave, 2007) and Duffield, Development, Security and Unending War, for elaborations on this Foucauldian understanding of governmentality and applications of this concept to governing practices implemented in contexts of conflict.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    For the detail of such interventionist practices and local reactions thereto, see Maria O’Reilly, Catastrophe, Memory and Gendered Activism: Peacebuilding in Bosnia-Herzegovina (PhD thesis: King’s College London, 2014).Google Scholar
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    For greater elaboration on conceptualizations of ‘the local’ (its ‘romanticization’, ‘deromanticization’ and local ‘resistance’) that emerge in peacebuilding settings such as the experiences in East Timor, Cambodia, Bosnia and Kosovo, see Oliver Richmond, A Post-Liberal Peace (London and New York: Routledge, 2011).Google Scholar
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    On the idea of ‘hybrid agency’, see, for example, various chapters in Oliver Richmond and Audra Mitchell, Hybrid Forms of Peace: From Everyday Agency to Post-Liberalism (London and New York: Palgrave, 2012);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    One of the foremost critics of post-colonial perspectives influenced by post-structural thought was Aijaz Ahmad. See Aijaz Ahmad, In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures (London: Verso, 1992).Google Scholar
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  17. 13.
    I borrow this expression from Pierre Bourdieu et al., The Weight of the World: Social Suffering in Contemporary Society (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1999).Google Scholar
  18. 14.
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  20. 20.
    Himadeep Muppidi, ‘Colonial and Postcolonial Global Governance’, in Power in Global Governance, eds Michael Barnett and Raymond Duvall (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005); Jabri, War and the Transformation of Global Politics.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (London: Penguin, 1967), 252–253.Google Scholar

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© Vivienne Jabri 2016

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  • Vivienne Jabri

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