[URBANTH-L]CFP: The Idea of a Failed State: Interdisciplinary Theories and Applications

Angela Jancius acjancius at ysu.edu
Sat Nov 26 15:51:38 EST 2005

The Idea of a Failed State: Interdisciplinary Theories and Applications
Deadline: February 18, 2006

In the post-Cold War era, it has become increasingly evident that one of the
most pressing challenges for the world community is that posed by so-called
"failed states." Many serious problems with highly significant intra- and
international ramifications are laid at their door: savage, prolonged wars;
global terrorism; persecution; organized crime; the spread of disease; the
impoverishment of local populations; and illegal immigration, to name only
some of the most obvious. If these are caused or at least exacerbated by the
very existence of failed states - by the fact that they have 'failed' - then
solving them requires us to confront them in their specific failings. But at
this point, the question naturally arises: what, exactly, are failed states?
Scholars of the phenomenon do not all seem to have the same thing in mind
when using the term "failed state," since attempts to define the term often
seem to have little in common. Many consist of little more than strings of
examples, with no clear statement of principle to show what those examples
are taken to have in common. More theoretically-developed definitions are
usually extremely brief, or assert principles that seem to lead to the
conclusion only that a state has failed in certain respects, but not
necessarily across the board. What theoretical concepts are behind these
differing definitions? Could different concepts augment, improve, or even
disqualify others? Is it quixotic to think that scholars could together
develop an all-purpose concept? Or are we forced to conclude that "failed
state" is irretrievable as an analytic and moral concept from the morass of
ideological posturing?
In order to begin answering these (and many other) questions, we are
inviting proposals on the issues raised by the concept of a 'failed state.'
Perspectives from any relevant academic discipline are welcome. The main aim
of the collection will be to understand, from as many different points of
view as possible, what would make it true to describe a state as failed, in
the hope of developing a more complete understanding of this multi-faceted
phenomenon in order to help fashion the tools needed to tackle it. Hence,
the primary focus of proposals (and the resulting papers) should be that of
clearly stating, explaining and justifying fundamental theoretical
principles. Application of theory is, of course, often necessary and always
desirable, but should serve the purpose of illuminating the principles. The
treatment should be scholarly but as easily comprehensible as possible to
those outside your specific disciplines. So, for instance, literature
surveys and fairly extensive bibliographies are a good idea, but overly
technical language should be either avoided or, if unavoidable, clearly

Questions you might address include, but are by no means limited to the

(I) Is the very idea of a failed state a sound one? That is, does it even
make sense to describe any state as 'failed'? This question might be
approached by asking:

(a) How can we distinguish a failed state from a successful one? What
technical/functional and/or moral criteria might be used for this purpose?
(b) Must a state fail 'across the board' to be a 'failed state', or is it
sufficient to fail only in certain aspects of its functioning to pass the
threshold of overall failure?
(c) Is the notion of a failed state relative in some way? For example, can a
state that is deemed to be a failure in, say, one cultural context be deemed
to be successful (or at least not a failure) in another?
(d) Is state failure always absolute, or is it a matter of degree? That is,
can one failed state be a worse failure than another? And, if so, how do we
tell which is which?
(e) Is there any significant difference between a failed state and a failing

(II) What are the paradigmatic cases of state failure? Are there failed
states which have not so far been recognized as such, and what case can we
make for classing them thus?

(III) Can failed states be turned into successful ones? If so, are there any
general strategies for doing this, or must such transformation be carried
out on a case-by-case basis? If failed states cannot in principle be thus
"repaired," is there a case for "liquidating" them? If so, who should be the
liquidator, and what should happen to the "assets"?

(IV) From the answers to the questions which can be asked about the concept
of a failed state, what might be implied or inferred with respect to the
nature, functions and responsibilities of the international order?
The intention is that this call will solicit proposals from which a volume
will emerge and, if feasible, a conference at which draft contributions can
be presented and discussed. It is hoped to plan the volume, and submit a
proposal to publishers, early in 2006. To establish the feasibility of this,
proposals of about 500 words long are therefore invited.

Liam Harte,
Department of Philosophy,
Westfield State College,
Westfield, MA 01085
Email: lharte at wsc.ma.edu

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