Constructing the capable state: Contested discourses and practices in EU capacity building

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Capacity building has risen to prominence in the vocabulary of the international community as a way to promote security and development in fragile and post-conflict environments. Capacity building seeks to promote a bottom up approach drawing on and strengthening existing local capacities. This article argues that capacity building can be understood as part of a broader governmentality that seeks to determine from the outside what constitutes a 'capable' subject. However, the effects of these governance practices are not straightforward as they are constantly shaped by the way local actors on the ground engage with these. Drawing on both policy documents and interviews conducted in Bosnia, Kosovo and Somalia, the article examines European Union (EU) capacity building initiatives in these post-conflict environments. By examining the rationality and problematisations behind this discourse, the article unveils how such assumptions (in particular, regarding the lack of institutions, power and knowledge) result in interactions and contestation between the local and the international in practice, which lead to new outcomes that neither straightforwardly reflect the existing status quo nor represent a linear imposition of power by external capacity builders.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
JournalCooperation and Conflict
Early online date15 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2019


  • European Union
  • Capacity Building
  • Western Balkans
  • Horn of Africa
  • Governmentality
  • Somaliland
  • Somalia


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