(Post-)Colonial Statebuilding in East Timor: Bringing Social Conflict Back In
547 - 575
Conflict, Security & Development
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One potential explanation for the persistent gap between international state-builders’ aspirations and achievements is their misguided understanding of states as institutional apparatuses abstracted and separated from society. State-society interpenetration is actually the historical norm, and a proper understanding of state forms requires close analysis of the conflicts between different social forces as they promote state projects that will advance particular interests over others. International statebuilders are best conceptualised as merely one—albeit important—party to this ongoing struggle, which state-builders have no realistic hope of taming. The argument is illustrated by the case of East Timor. Both Indonesian and UN efforts to transplant state projects into Timorese society, even when backed by tremendous economic and coercive resources, failed to simply penetrate and dominate, or to create a technically efficient state insulated from, society. Rather, their state projects became interpenetrated with the society they sought to govern, and thus became shot through with social conflict. Neither more ‘capacity-building’ nor ‘participatory intervention’ can eliminate this conflict, nor evacuate it from the state.