The Idea of a Failed State: Interdisciplinary Theories and Applications.
Call for Papers Date:
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 defined.
Questions you might address include, but are by no means limited to the following:
(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 one?
(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.
Department of Philosophy,
Westfield State College,
Westfield, MA 01085
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