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The Twin Processes of Nation-Building and State-Building

SSGM Briefing Note 1 / 2007
The term ‘nation-building’ is used widely in reference to multilateral and bilateral
engagements in post-conflict situations and other forms of international assistance to
‘fragile’ states. In Australia, nation-building has become an important part of the ra-
tionale for the Government’s increased engagement with its Pacific neighbours in
recent years. Australia’s role in RAMSI in Solomon Islands, and recent operations in
PNG, Tonga and Fiji covers a range of areas, including strengthening the rule of law,
building the economy and improving governance standards.
Despite its current prominence in international affairs, ‘nation building’ remains an
imprecise term subject to interpretation. Given this lack of clarity, it is hardly surpris-
ing that there is considerable uncertainty about the practicalities of nation-building
strategies among governments and non-government actors. Many of the same issues
arising in present discussions about building states and nations were raised in earlier
debates around decolonisation and independence in Asia and Africa in the 1950s and
1960s, and in the Pacific in the 1970s. Unfortunately, the lessons of that period have
been largely forgotten by today’s nation-builders. ‘Nation-building’ at that time re-
ferred to the policies and projects by which newly independent governments sought to
accomplish the transition from ‘tradition’ to ‘modernity’. This entailed building all of
the institutions of the modern state. However, it also referred to the self-conscious
production and dissemination of national consciousness and included the cultural and
educational policies of new states, and the construction and promotion of national
identity through schooling, mass media, child socialisation, and the iconography and
ceremonies of the state.
More recent analysis has rejected two key presumptions of this earlier approach.
Firstly, the ethnocentric and evolutionary analytical framework of ‘modernisation’ has
been largely abandoned. It is no longer assumed that the formation of national identity
occurs within the constraints of an inexorable and unilinear process of historical pro-
gress whereby ‘traditional’ communities inevitably give way to ‘modern’ social
forms. Experience from around the world reveals a much more complex and dynamic
process of interaction between ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’ and the emergence of new
hybrid social forms drawing on both. Secondly, current approaches to the construction
of national identities dispense with the assumption that state-building and nation-
building are exclusively the concern of recently independent former colonies or other
transitional societies. The construction and reproduction of national identity remains a
live, continuous and contested issue in every nation-state.
In the burgeoning literature generated by recent international interventions, there has
been a tendency to use the terms ‘state-building’ and ‘nation-building’ interchangea-
bly. This has confused different, though closely related, processes of political devel-
opment and has also obscured the highly contingent relationship between ‘nation’ and
‘state’ in historical processes of state-formation and consolidation. The blurring be-
tween these two processes is especially marked in American circles where ‘nation-
building’ has acquired a very particular meaning in current security and foreign policy
debates. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in 2001 and the subsequent as-
cendancy of the ‘war on terror’, nation-building has become a favoured antidote
among certain Western powers to the security risks posed by ‘failed’ and ‘failing’
Key Points
Though integrally related, processes
of state-building and nation-building
are distinct.
Most current international interven-
tions undertaken in the name of na-
tion-building are focused on state-
Building a functioning state is now
an accepted condition for effective
nationhood, though not the only one.
History and local context are abso-
lutely critical to nation-building.
Many of the difficulties experienced
by cou n tri e s in Aus t ral i a’s
neighbourhood reflect both the
weakness of state and nation and the
reinforcing dynamic between them.
Nation-building in the broad, literal
sense is an ongoing process in all
Ext ernal assistance to nation-
building in this sense needs to be
strategic and facilitative of local
Active citizenship is a vital compo-
nent of building a shared political
Nation-building requires a critical
focus on state/civil society relations
rather than a separate focus on each.
State Society
The Twin Processes of Nation Building
and State Building
Number 1 / 2007 Briefing Note
A classroom in Solomon Islands—some observ-
ers have identified education as one of the most
important stepping stones to national con-
sciousness. Photo ABC Brisbane
SSGM Briefing Note 1 / 2007 2
states. In this vein, the widely cited RAND Corporation study of
American experience in nation-building defines it as “the use of
armed force in the aftermath of a conflict to underpin an endur-
ing transition to democracy”. While this meaning has acquired a
certain currency among security analysts, it remains a highly
contentious one. It has nevertheless become an important ration-
ale for militaristic interventions in countries that are deemed to
constitute serious threats to international or regional security.
Critics have pointed to the low success rates of militarised ap-
proaches to nation-building. Not only do they rarely accomplish
their stated objectives, these approaches to nation-building have
few theoretical underpinnings and no proven technique or meth-
odology. Even where they appear to succeed, the positive result
often owes more to historical circumstances and local political
culture than it does to the efforts of external nation-builders.
European-based commentators tend to favour the more literal
meaning of nation-building and, moreover, often argue that na-
tions as shared communities tend to evolve organically rather
than be constructed by external powers. This latter perspective,
reflecting the different historical experience of countries in that
region, recognises that in addition to a functioning state, nation-
building in this broader sense requires the nurturing of a com-
mon sense of identity where none previously existed, or shoring
up one that was never fully established, or that has fragmented
as a result of internal conflict.
Many of today’s international interventions undertaken in the
name of nation-building devote most of their resources to build-
ing state institutions and have relatively little focus on nation-
building in the broader, literal sense. The emphasis is more
about regime change or democratisation, as in Afghanistan or
Iraq, or the reconstruction of states that have collapsed or been
seriously weakened as a result of internal conflict, as in the cases
of Timor-Leste or Solomon Islands.
Although they refer to different processes, it is argued here state-
building and nation-building are integrally related as twin as-
pects of modern nation-states. The absence of a shared identity
makes it hard to fashion the cohesive national community
needed for the development of an effective and durable state.
The goal of nation-building in the broader sense is to unify the
national community within the institutional framework of the
modern state, with the objective of social and political stability.
The neglect of the long and diverse history of nation-
building and the critical importance of local context, in-
cluding culture and politics, is one of the most significant
limitations of prevailing conceptions and practices of inter-
national nation-building. In addition, the securitised charac-
ter of much of today’s policy discourse has detracted from
the need to formulate a more development-oriented under-
standing of nation-building. Rather than trying to impose
change by coercive means, development policy aims to
shape conditions in recipient countries on a partnership
basis between external and local actors using a wide range
of civil and structural instruments. In doing so, it pre-
supposes a local demand for this co-shaping. The develop-
ment approach also acknowledges the practical limitations
of external interventions in nation-building - a complex and
context-sensitive process. The priority is to identify the
local dynamics of nation-building in a particular country
and provide carefully targeted support.
Nations, like states, do not exist naturally - they need to be
built, and history teaches that they are rarely built by exter-
nal means alone. Nation-building does not start with the
end of violent conflict or major social upheaval. Nor is it a
process confined to so-called developing countries. On the
contrary, it is an ongoing process in all countries aimed at
establishing and maintaining an integrated national society
based on broadly conceived shared values and goals. A
sense of shared identity helps overcome parochial divisions
that might otherwise lead to disharmony and conflict. It
equates with a growing level of social cohesion and is, in
turn, both a source and a reflection of the growth of civil
society. The workings of many institutions of the modern
state rely on the willingness of individuals to identify with -
and be able to participate as members of - a common politi-
cal community. This is essential if states are to be held ac-
countable effectively by the citizens they exist to serve.
The construction and reproduction of national identity re-
mains a live, continuous and, often, contested issue in most
Looking back at the 19
and 20
centuries indicates the
principal types of nation-building with the most lasting
impact on the modern world have been nationalism and
colonialism. Some analysts have also proposed the post-
WWII reconstruction of Germany and Japan as examples of
successful international nation-making. However, both
countries had lengthy and powerful traditions of statehood
and nationalism pre-dating the war. They were already eth-
nic and cultural communities, as well as political states, and
external intervention was essentially about their physical
reconstruction and re-legitimation as democratic states.
Although unwise to generalise given the wide variations
across time and space, building the modern nation-state in
Europe was very different to the more recent experience in
much of the so-called developing world. In the former case,
these processes often took place over centuries rather than
years, were not the outcome of well-intentioned interna-
tional interventions, and frequently entailed extensive con-
flict as the forces of centralisation confronted and overcame
rival sources of power at local and regional levels. In addi-
tion, nationalism, constructed around the symbols and my-
thology of shared identity and community, was a major
force in the development of many early European states.
Box 1: State and Nation Building—Definitions
State-building is the task of building functioning and durable
states capable of fulfilling the essential attributes of modern state-
hood. The latter include providing security from external threats
and maintaining internal order, raising and collecting taxes, deliv-
ering essential services such as health and education, the provision
of transport and communications infrastructure, and the prudent
management of the economy. State-building, with a focus on
strengthening key state institutions, has long been a focus of inter-
national development assistance.
Nation-building refers to the broader process of developing a
shared sense of political community that is capable of binding to-
gether the population of a given state. While the state has a central
role in this task, nation-building also requires the mobilisation of a
range of non-state stakeholders.
Distinguished in this way, state-building comprises the practical
task of establishing or strengthening state institutions, while na-
tion-building is more concerned with the character of relations
between citizens and their state.
SSGM Briefing Note 1 / 2007 3
Nationalism, in this broad sense, often preceded the establish-
ment of states. For example, it contributed to the unification of
Italy in 1861 and Germany in 1871, as well as to the break-up of
Austria-Hungary in 1918. There were, of course, also many
other factors involved. While political leadership was a critical
factor, so too were changes in technology and economic produc-
tion, as well as matters of communication, culture, and civil so-
ciety. Nation-building was most successful where governments
were relatively capable, where powerful states made room for
new entrants, and where populations were not deeply divided.
An example would be Germany, which had an effective govern-
ment and was very successful in forging a strong sense of shared
identity and community. Yugoslavia, on the other hand, was
ultimately unsuccessful, as demonstrated by its disintegration in
the post-Cold war period.
Colonialism and the Creation of ‘States without Nations’
While the experience of a select few European powers continues
to shape much Western thinking about the modern nation-state,
state-building and nation-building in other parts of the world
have followed a very different trajectory. Many of today’s devel-
oping states have their origins in the era of colonial expansion
by major European powers during the 18
, 19
and first half of
the 20
centuries. In annexing large swathes of territory around
the world, colonial powers created arbitrary borders and im-
posed external systems of governance with little, if any, regard
to their fit with indigenous polities and social forms.
Colonial states were external creations with an inherently non-
democratic character. They were organised primarily to promote
the political and economic interests of distant metropolitan pow-
ers rather than advance the interests of local peoples. Building
elaborate state structures and social infrastructure often did not
take place until very late in many colonial projects. Prior to the
accelerated institutional modernisation that typically preceded
independence, local participation in formal political processes
was often limited and any hint of emerging nationalism was
viewed as a threat to the maintenance of colonial order. Where
nationalist movements arose, they were often anti-colonial in
character, provoked by opposition to external intervention rather
than its deliberate outcome. In other places, the absence of
strong independence movements perpetuated high levels of ex-
isting diversity and division.
Many former colonies were ill-prepared for the challenges of
independent statehood that began to arrive in the second half of
the 20
century. This was particularly so among Australia’s
Melanesian neighbours in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands
and Vanuatu in the Southwest Pacific. In these countries the
timing of independence was almost as abrupt and unilateral as
the original acts of colonial annexation a century before. Modern
state institutions only began to be assembled well after WWII.
As a consequence, they inevitably had shallow foundations in
the local environments they were grafted on to.
This lack of embeddedness was manifested not only in the lim-
ited capabilities of post-colonial states, but also in the low levels
of legitimacy accorded them by many of their own citizens.
Artificial colonial borders were retained, formal economies and
infrastructure remained under-developed, and the human re-
sources needed to operate a complex bureaucratic state were in
scarce supply. In fragmented and tribalised societies, such as
those in Melanesia and sub-Saharan Africa, there was little sense
of a shared political community capable of uniting disparate
local groups. Living predominantly in rural communities, bonds
of kinship, shared language and ties to ancestral land, along with
Christianity, were more likely to constitute the basis for individ-
ual identities and allegiances, than abstract notions of
‘citizenship’ or membership of the modern state. Localism
prevailed over nationalism in virtually every sphere of so-
cial, economic, and political life. Nationalism - such as it
was - was largely confined to the small urban elite.
In such unpromising settings, independence created states
without nations. The establishment of the state preceded
that of nation in much of the colonial and post-colonial
world. It is this combination of state fragility and lack of
nation borne of their particular histories and pluralistic so-
cial environments that underlies many of the challenges
facing these countries today. Not only were many new
states weak in an institutional sense, they were also incom-
plete, with a limited presence in parts of their territories,
and incapable of delivering basic services to all eligible
citizens. State-building and nation-building have therefore
had to be pursued simultaneously, and have often worked
against each other in practice. This has contributed to cri-
ses of legitimacy and the weakening of state institutions in
the post-independence period. The demise of colonialism
was accompanied by the revival of ethnic and regional divi-
sions in many places. Political decentralisation was viewed
by newly independent governments as an important instru-
ment for promoting political participation and national
unity in the face of multiple pressures for local autonomy.
The object of ‘nation-building’ from a development per-
spective comprises three related elements:
1. The development of an effectively functioning state
that is accorded legitimacy by the bulk of its citizens.
Central to this are the functions of securing a monop-
oly of force, guaranteeing security for the population
and neighbouring countries, the rule of law, and the
provision of essential public goods. These are funda-
mental attributes of statehood and - although not the
full story - constitute a necessary foundation for
2. Nation-building also requires a physical, social and
communications infrastructure that is shared by the
entire civil society. These assets must be accessible for
all groups of the population and be used by them for
transactions and communication. It is difficult to build
a sense of nation in a country containing regions or
areas whose inhabitants are effectively cut-off from the
rest of the population.
3. Nation-building further presupposes a socio-cultural
structuring and integration process leading to shared
characteristics of identity, values and goals. It is not so
much the homogeneity of these characteristics that is
crucial, rather it is the acceptance and toleration of
heterogeneity and the facilitation of inclusion. The
relevant phrase used in Papua New Guinea is “unity in
diversity” and this captures the essence of nation-
building in its literal sense.
‘Nation-building’ cannot be accomplished from the top-
down but requires the active participation of ordinary citi-
zens in the shaping of a common political will. Citizens
must provide the necessary legitimacy to the new state.
Commitment to the common good and a shared community
are essential because collective decision-making often en-
tails imposing sacrifices for the common good (e.g. to pro-
tect the environment for future generations). If these sacri-
SSGM Briefing Note 1 / 2007 4
fices are not backed up by shared values and bonds - the key
elements of community - they will not be treated as legitimate
and will not be effectively achieved, or will have to be brought
about through force. Where individual identities and allegiances
are founded primarily on membership of ethnic and other sub-
national groups, these can weaken or undermine the sense of
membership of a larger political community.
Loyalties to ethnic group, tribe or clan are deeply embedded in
some countries and continue to be more important than member-
ship of the modern nation-state. Where states have never func-
tioned properly or have ceased to do so, the appeal of sub-
national identities is likely to persist or even be strengthened
and, in the process, hinder efforts to build a sense of national
Nation-building is an ongoing and context-specific task that does
not fit easily into pre-determined analytical frameworks or artifi-
cial timeframes. To be sustainable, it needs to be locally owned
and driven. External assistance can, at best, facilitate local proc-
esses aimed at integrating different peoples and regions. The ‘do
no harm’ principle of development assistance translates into the
avoidance of initiatives that perpetuate or accentuate divisions
within local populations, and the active pursuit of policies that
promote national integration.
There is no blueprint for successful nation-building. A good
place to start is the identification of appropriate ‘stepping stones
to national consciousness’, given the particular historical and
social circumstances of the country in question. In Solomon
Islands, some observers have identified these ‘stepping stones’
as the education system; Pijin, the lingua franca of the archipel-
ago; and the popular culture slowly spreading from the urban
centres. Education, language and communications policies are
critical instruments of nation-building in every country. The first
is a crucial vehicle for instilling civic values and sense of shared
community in young minds. The second enables citizens of the
same country to communicate with each other, while the third is
necessary to bridge the physical and social distance that often
separates and isolates people in large and geographically frag-
mented countries. The importance of radio broadcasting in com-
municating national affairs cannot be underestimated, particu-
larly in countries with predominantly rural populations and low
levels of literacy. Modern technology, such as mobile phones
and email have contributed to nation-building in countries with
the necessary infrastructure. Cultural institutions, such as Vanu-
atu’s National Cultural Centre, and policies that help record and
promote ‘traditional’ (e.g. pre-state/pre-nation) cultures can also
make an important contribution to the nurturing of national iden-
Local writers and artists help produce the narratives of nation
that help generate shared consciousness. Among the most dy-
namic milieus for creatively fusing different cultural influences
into distinct national forms are the popular and youth cultures
that spring up in multi-cultural urban settings. Sporting events,
including international competition, are a potent catalyst for
shared identity in countries throughout the world. One need only
think of the remarkable scenes of national rejoicing on the war-
torn streets of Baghdad following the victory of the Iraqi soccer
team in the recent Asian Cup. In the Pacific, events such as the
South Pacific Games and the South Pacific Festival of Arts pro-
vide important opportunities for national pride. A recent report
on PNG suggests more Australian support for rugby league at
community and national levels, and argues that the participation
of PNG teams in Australia’s National Rugby League competi-
tion – if broadcast throughout PNG – might do more to
build PNG’s sense of national identity than anything else
we could do.
NGOs and other civil society organizations can play a criti-
cal role in developing the social and political capacities of
the bulk of the population. This would assist in increasing
the effectiveness of the population in influencing govern-
ance institutions and making the latter more responsive to
local needs and aspirations. Churches are a major compo-
nent of civil society throughout the Pacific and, as such,
constitute an important potential instrument of nation-
building. They can also be divisive under certain circum-
stances, as where people are divided by religious or de-
nominational differences. Supporting civil society and na-
tional integration can include measures that increase access
to information, promote freedom of expression, develop
associations to promote the voices and interests of marginal
groups, and overcome barriers against political inclusion.
Enhancing political participation is another vital condition
for building national community. Political participation can
be enhanced in various ways. It can be facilitated structur-
ally by decentralisation aimed at increasing access to the
state at the most local levels, while making it more respon-
sive to grassroots needs. The appeal of this approach is
obvious in countries where state resources remain concen-
trated in urban areas, controlled by a small elite, and remote
from the bulk of the rural population.
Enabling ordinary citizens to participate in and influence
decision-making processes, especially at local levels, is a
key aspect of both nation-building and current conceptions
of good governance. Increased political participation should
improve the efficiency of public services, render govern-
ment more accountable, and deepen democracy – comple-
menting representative forms with more participatory forms
of democracy.
This briefing note was written by Sinclair Dinnen.
Dobbins, James et at. (2003), America’s Role in Nation-Building: From
Germany to Iraq, RAND, Santa Monica, CA.
Foster, Robert J. Nation Making: Emergent Identities in Postcolonial
Melanesia. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Fukuyama, Francis (2003), ‘The Imperative of State-Building’, Journal of
Democracy, 15(2).
Guibernau, Montserrat (1996) Nationalisms: The Nation-State and Nation-
alism in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Hippler, Jochem (ed) (2004) Nation-Building: a Key Concept for Peaceful
Conflict Transformation? London: Pluto Press.
Tilly, Charles (1990), Coercion, Capital and European States AD 990-
1992. Cambridge: Blackwell.
The purpose of SSGM Briefing Notes is to provide the latest gov-
ernance and development issues for policy-makers and to generate
discussion on topical issues. The Briefing Notes are prepared by
individual researchers and do not reflect SSGM policy.
State, Society and Governance in Melanesia (SSGM) is a small
academic unit within the Australian National University’s Research
School of Pacific and Asian Studies. SSGM is funded by the Aus-
tralian Government through AusAID. For further information
about SSGM or to obtain other SSGM publications, please go to
... State-building, by contrast, focuses on the tasks of building 'functioning and durable states capable of fulfilling the essential attributes of modern statehood' (Dinnen 2007). These include constructing or strengthening viable state institutions, establishing the rule of law, fostering institutional competence, creating a functional security sector (police and military), and providing essential services and infrastructure. ...
... As Canas Mendes (2005) argues, the sine qua non of nation-building lies in the establishment of a 'decolonised' education system with the priority of ending illiteracy, as most forms of active political participation integral to nation-building are contingent on this development. Development of standardised national languages (Dinnen 2007) and literacy programmes for adults and children are therefore essential. ...
... An inability to provide services in outlying areas undermines the presence of the nation, reducing the ability of citizens to identify with the greater whole. This is especially important in emerging states with high levels of ethnic diversity, as the lack of an effective state and a shared sense of community may be 'mutually reinforcing conditions' (Dinnen 2007), making nation-and state-building a 'double task' (Borgerhoff 2006). ...
Timor-Leste’s long journey to nationhood spans 450 years of colonial rule by Portugal, a short-lived independence in 1975, and a 24-year occupation by Indonesia. This book examines the history of nation-building and national identity in Timor-Leste, and the evolution of a collective identity through two consecutive colonial occupations, and into the post-independence era. It charts the evolution of the idea of an East Timorese nation: its origins, its sources, and its competitors in traditional understandings of political community, and the distinct colonial visions imposed by Portugal or Indonesia. The author analyses the evolution of ideas of collective identity under the long era of Portuguese colonial rule, and through the 24-year struggle for independence from Indonesia from 1975 to 1999. Reflecting the contested history of the territory, these include successive attempts to define its members as colonial subjects in a wider ‘pluri-racial’ Portuguese empire, as citizens in an ‘integrated’ province of the Republic of Indonesia - and, of course, as a nation that demanded its right to self-determination. Finally, the host of nation-building tensions and fault lines that emerged after the restoration of independence in 2002 are discussed. Examining the history of debates and conflict over national identity, national history, cultural heritage, language policy, and relationships between distinct regions, generations, and language groups, this book will be of interest to academics in the fields of Asian studies, nationalism studies, and international and community development.
... De este desempeño, curiosamente, envió a una revista estadounidense una copla satírica colombiana desfavorable a la intervención 18 (Lemly, 1899, p. 163). Con 30 años de servicio, pidió su retiro del Ejército estadounidense el mismo año en que estalló el conflicto de 1899 en Colombia y Lemly volvió al país 19 . ...
... 23); inicialmente tuvo un sesgo evangelista radical, luego de la Guerra de Secesión se dedicó a promover la reconciliación y el nacionalismo. 19 También, en 1899, un H. Lemly de Nueva York obtuvo otro contrato para navegación en el Putumayo, con privilegio por cinco años y 20.000 hectáreas de baldíos por cada vapor que trajera (Diario Oficial, 1899, noviembre 16, p. 1.170). ...
Full-text available
Este artículo caracteriza la influencia liberal estadounidense sobre el Ejército colombiano entre 1880 y 1904. En cuanto al aspecto teórico, asume que la formación del ejército es consustancial al Estadonación, reflejado en sus entornos conflictivos, pero no analiza el pensamiento liberal ni sus manifestaciones partidistas. Tal influencia se basó en la táctica del militar liberal Emory Upton, la cual superó las doctrinas europeas que regían en Colombia. Una misión estadounidense, veterana en las “guerras indias”, la impuso desde la Escuela Militar, especialmente Henry Lemly, oficial que también fue agente en la compra de armamento, impulsor de deportes y escritor costumbrista.
... States were seen as failing because they were "falling short of specific standards of social, political and economic performance" (Yannis 2002 in ibid) and, in order to prevent a relapse into conflict, it was necessary to rebuild institutions capable of providing public goods and services that contributed to improving the country's social, political and economic situation. As such, state building emerged as "the task of building functioning and durable states capable of fulfilling the essential attributes of modern statehood" (Dinnen, 2007;p.2), which included: providing security from external threats and maintaining internal order; raising and collecting taxes, delivering essential services such as health and education; the provision of transport and communications infrastructure; and, the prudent management of the economy (ibid). ...
Conference Paper
Despite an increasing number of international state building interventions in postconflict countries in the past decade, the prolonged economic, social and political issues plaguing the development of these countries into peaceful states has brought increased attention on the inability of the institutions carrying out these interventions to learn from their past mistakes. The following research contends that one of the main issues at the root of such failures, lies in international state building interventions framing the (re)construction of state institutions around the notion of an ideal-type state that is ahistorical and inherently detached from the society it is meant to govern. Instead, this research argues, state building and political community construction are two distinct processes, which have historically come to be contingent upon each other with the territorialisation of the state; as such, for state building to be successful, it needs to focus on the establishment of state institutions capable of promoting, within the territory, a sense of citizenship that will facilitate the emergence of a political community upon which state sovereignty and legitimacy rest. In this light, using the case study of Dili, the capital of Timor Leste, this research seeks to demonstrate that urban spaces are particularly pertinent contexts to explore the relationship between state building and political community. It begins by outlining the impact of the state building process on the shaping of state institutions, between 1999 and 2012, and the type of policies emerging from such institutions. It then moves on to the analysis of social cohesion in two case study areas, highlighting how the implementation of state policies on widely diverse urban fabrics – shaped by different economic, social, political and historical dynamics – results in different scales and spaces of polity construction.
... Effective nation formation is therefore not just about the lateral integration of different groups around 'deliberate' constructions of nation-building goals, interests and political values, but also about the way prevailing socioeconomic structures influence the formation or reproduction of political communities; how tensions between modern and traditional conceptions of authority influence popular conceptions of state legitimacy; how nation-building and statebuilding agendas interact; and how these processes combine, successfully or otherwise, to create 'national' constituencies in support of the state and its institutions. In particular, the sustainability of relationships between influential conceptions of traditional community and modern state institutions are central to the contemporary studies of nation-building (Dinnen, 2007), along with the potential for 'hybrid' forms of political authority to promote stability (Brown, 2007). ...
The challenges of nation building in Melanesia and Timor-Leste have often been neglected in the regional focus on state-building challenges. High levels of ethno-linguistic diversity, combined with an array of regional, historical and cultural divisions, continue to present obstacles to the creation of a cohesive sense of national political community leading these nations to be labelled ‘fragile’. This paper presents the findings of a comparative study on the attitudes of tertiary students in Melanesia and Timor-Leste to national identity and nation building. A strong pan-Melanesian pattern of group identification was identified, common to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. The ongoing importance of traditional authority and custom in informing conceptions of political community and identity was evident in all four case study sites, but was in each case matched by indicators of respect for modern state authority. The survey also reveals some significant gender differences in key attitudes towards national identity, including the role of traditional authorities. Most importantly, the study reveals high degrees of national pride, and faith in democratic principles and citizenship; but conversely, low levels of pride in contemporary democratic performance and inter-group tolerance.
The concept of “national identity” is one of the most popular constructs linking political theory and policy agents’ requests intended to maintain socio-political order in general, and to legitimize policy in particular. This aspect of legitimacy as explored through the national identity issue engages our attention in this review. The authors explore this aspect as applied to the problem of classical political order, focusing on state capacities and policymaking, accompanied rhetorically by a national identity discourse and based on common values, beliefs, and models of behavior. The review starts from a skepticism towards state capabilities and its claim to monopolize reproduction of a socio-political order which appeals to a volatile idea of a “nation.” This is an obvious case for political philosophy and the social sciences, and also a strong example to illustrate the complexities that states face in the “colonizing” of a public sphere. The complexities are particularly expressed in a growing uncertainty of all statutes of identity-politics agents. The article emphasizes that precisely because of the “colonization” strategy, a “nation” eludes a state that loses its reference points such as “order” or “stability.” The authors conclude that a policy of such a style described above will always be emasculated and fail to provide any kind of social integration.
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The concept of “national identity” is one of the most popular constructs linking political theory and policy agents’ requests intended to maintain socio-political order in general, and to legitimize policy in particular. This aspect of legitimacy as explored through the national identity issue engages our attention in this review. The authors explore this aspect as applied to the problem of classical political order, focusing on state capacities and policymaking, accompanied rhetorically by a national identity discourse and based on common values, beliefs, and models of behavior. The review starts from a skepticism towards state capabilities and its claim to monopolize reproduction of a socio-political order which appeals to a volatile idea of a “nation.” This is an obvious case for political philosophy and the social sciences, and also a strong example to illustrate the complexities that states face in the “colonizing” of a public sphere. The complexities are particularly expressed in a growing uncertainty of all statutes of identity-politics agents. The article emphasizes that precisely because of the “colonization” strategy, a “nation” eludes a state that loses its reference points such as “order” or “stability.” The authors conclude that a policy of such a style described above will always be emasculated and fail to provide any kind of social integration.
Nation-building remains a key challenge in Vanuatu. From the origins of this new nation in 1980, it was clear that creating a unifying sense of national identity and political community from multiple languages and diverse traditional cultures would be difficult. This paper presents new survey and focus group data on attitudes to national identity among tertiary students in Vanuatu. The survey identifies areas of common attitudes towards nationalism and national identity, shared by both Anglophone and Francophone Ni-Vanuatu. However, despite the weakening ties between language of education and political affiliation over recent years, the findings suggest that there remain some key areas of strong association between socio-linguistic background, and attitudes to the nation, and national identity. These findings cast new light on the attitudes of likely future elites towards regional, ethnic, intergenerational and linguistic fault lines in Vanuatu and the challenges of building a cohesive sense of political community and national identity.
Decentralisation may play a role in building new and post-conflict states; where liberal state institutions are often built before a transition from local to state-level modes of political organisation has occurred. Decentralisation can provide space to recognise local sociopolitical institutions via a ‘liberal–local hybrid’, which may assist state-building. This article draws on case studies of Timor-Leste and Bougainville to argue that decentralisation to liberal–local hybrid institutions can play a positive role in state-building by enhancing the effectiveness and legitimacy of the state. This article concludes by identifying generalisable insights concerning how decentralisation to liberal–local hybrid institutions should be implemented during state-building.
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State-building—the creation of new governmental institutions and the strengthening of existing ones—is a crucial global issue. Weak or failed states are at the root of many of the world's most serious problems, from poverty and AIDS, to drug trafficking and terrorism, to the failure of democracies. While we know much about state-building, there is much that we do not know, particularly about transferring strong institutions to developing countries. We know how to transfer resources, people, and technology, but well-functioning public institutions require habits of mind and operate in complex ways that resist being moved. This is an area on which much more thought, attention, and research must be focused.
Since the end of the Cold War the United States has led six major nation‐building operations – that is to say, the use of military force in the aftermath of a conflict to underpin a transition to democracy. In Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and most recently Iraq, the US has renewed with varying success a form of activity upon which it had embarked in Germany and Japan at the end of the Second World War. Study of these past missions suggests a host of lessons applicable today in Iraq, and raises the question of why, in light of its substantial and recent experience, the US government's learning curve appears so flat.
In this theoretically sophisticated volume, contributors examine the process of nation making in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu- states that attained formal political independence between 1970 and 1980. The remarkable cultural diversity within these states demands close ethnographic study of different groups and their contesting definitions of nationhood and leads to highly original approaches. The essays explore the political conditions and cultural assumptions that inform how Melanesians variously imagine a national community. The authors interpret a wide range of materials, from political speeches and official ceremonies of state to newspaper advertisements and life crisis rites. They demonstrate both how the legacies of divisive colonial rule, the weakness of the postcolonial state, and the exigencies of capitalist markets undermine the processes of nation making in contemporary Melanesia and how new forms of popular and consumer culture potentially shape an emergent national consciousness. Comparative and historical in its orientation, this book will appeal to readers not only in anthropology but in political science, social history, and cultural studies. It will be of special value to those interested in comparative politics and history, Pacific studies, ethnicity and nationalism, and colonial and postcolonial studies. Robert J. Foster is Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of Rochester.
Nation-Building: a Key Concept for Peaceful Conflict Transformation
  • Jochem Hippler
Hippler, Jochem (ed) (2004) Nation-Building: a Key Concept for Peaceful Conflict Transformation? London: Pluto Press.
SSGM) is a small academic unit within the Australian National University's Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies. SSGM is funded by the Australian Government through AusAID. For further information about SSGM or to obtain other SSGM publications
  • Society State
  • Governance In Melanesia
State, Society and Governance in Melanesia (SSGM) is a small academic unit within the Australian National University's Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies. SSGM is funded by the Australian Government through AusAID. For further information about SSGM or to obtain other SSGM publications, please go to