This research project starts with the observation of the phenomenon of war at various levels (local, national, regional and international) and in different geographical areas (Africa, the Near East and the Middle East and Asia) in order to better understand its link with politics.

Each team member has carried out one or two fieldwork missions to conduct local research with the objective of answering the following question: how does war impact the reconstruction of political spaces?

In the scheme of the project, the definition of “politics” is understood in the broad sense of the term; in regards to the etymology of the word Polis. It defines the space in which different degrees of association or separation between individuals or groups can be observed. It begs the question whether political spaces, in regards to state structures, have the ability to foster and create communal life.

The study of the war and political reconstruction topic is meant to be dynamic. It is addressed via two interacting approaches:

  • Reconstruction over time

    Understand never-ending wars – although often considered as “exceptional” – and their effect on the reconstruction of relationships between individuals and communities. A clear example of this is the recurrent conflict situation in Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo.

  • Reconstruction by individuals

    Understand how people, subject to daily violence (physical and symbolic), experience and react against conflict and war. For example, in Libya, fights became personal when disputes between anti- and pro-Gaddafi appeared within families.

The team’s reflection revolves around three issues: each representing a topic of research in how war impacts the reconstruction of political and social spaces.


First Topic

The first topic looks at the effects of war and conflict in relation to the state institutions in charge of enacting legislations and administering justice.

Due to a lack of means or will, states often do not meet the needs of the population, in terms of ensuring physical security, re-distributing resources and administering justice. Therefore, sovereign rights are exerted by other actors who resort to other frames of reference, such as Shari’a law or common law in order to resolve daily conflicts (livestock thefts, property conflicts, etc.).

The latter progressively gains legitimacy within the population and as a result, the state’s power is based solely on legality after electoral vote. During times of war and conflict, it is thus interesting to observe how groups who disapprove of the iniquitous and absent state refer to a “bottom-up” approach to legitimate their speeches and justify resorting to violence in their methods of action (Daesh, Boko Haram).


Second Topic

The second topic studies the relationship between wars and politics and the emergence of local political systems.

In the framework of the political system, criticized and exposed by political opponents, the state becomes an actor amongst others. State representatives (police, customs, military, etc.) sometimes use the context of civil war to sustain their privileges and/or accumulate material and symbolic resources to gain or keep power (ex: Syria, Mali). The opposition is constantly forging alliances and developing strategies in order to carry on fighting (ex: Iraq).

The structure of local political systems is not responsible for triggering war. It is part of a history that transcends the exact time of war, taking into account the iniquitous practices of post-colonial states (ex: Nigeria).


Third topic

The third topic examines the influence of war on the development of strategies by foreign states

The relationships between foreign participants, states, and non-state armed groups require institutional agreements that are often contrary to the desired results.

In the case study of Libya, nation sovereignty principle was opposed in favour of responsibility to protect (R2P), justifying an international intervention to protect the Libyan population from the violence of the Gaddafi regime. Overthrowing a violent but stable regime in order to reconstruct a state does not guarantee peace or stability: foreign interventions can contribute to political disorder, as was the case with the U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The traditional approach of engaging in war to promote order and peace is questioned by past interventions that have created as much stability as instability (Libya).

These three themes are interlocked into time and space in a complex way. Short and long terms collide and it is important not to forget the historicity of factors of war. A global approach means stepping out of an analysis often dictated by media or policy makers. Also essential is the existence of multi-scale systems that act as communicating vessels between different geographical spaces. State borders do not always coincide with conflicts and war can extend beyond peripheral regions (Africa, Middle-East, and the Near-East).

Therefore, the project’s goal is to reinvent and re-create the link between war, state and politics: based on processes in action at the local level, and to overthrow a Western-centric approach of war and state. The state is often considered the only legitimate political organisation by the population even though it is inherited from an exported model. This observation results in a different reality: war is not the states only preserve, as it was in Europe during the World Wars and the Cold War. The state is in competition with other groups (militia, rebels, jihadist movements, etc.) when exercising their monopoly on violence.

In addition to the state, other actors, emerging at the local level, are more capable to meet the needs of the population (security, re-distributing goods, executing justice). Wars then create an opportunity for claimants to take advantage of disorder to impose their own rules (ISIS, militias in Libya, AQIM in northern Mali). Thus, a political order that is both stable and violent lingers on. These dynamics should be analysed even though they are criticized since they are deemed detrimental to the balance of the international system.