Working Papers


Rethinking Rebel Rule:

A Structural Approach to Conceptualize Contradiction

Scholarship on “rebel governance” shows that rebels often reproduce state-like forms and functions. While such insights are now mainstream, less attention has been paid to another key insight: that rebel orders are characterized by contradiction. From Afghanistan to South Sudan, scholars have traced how rebel orders are simultaneously inclusive and exclusive, arbitrary and law abiding, fragile and resilient. Our contribution is threefold. First, we show that contradictions in institutional form are fundamental to the functioning of rebel governing orders. Second, we posit that this is a reflection of their wartime origins. Third, to study these institutional contradictions, we propose studying the characteristics of rebel institutions as components in a structure. This conceptualization redirects analytic efforts away from the substantive characteristics of rebel orders and toward how these substantive characteristics relate. To elaborate these points, we draw on the cases of Uganda’s National Resistance Movement, Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the Afghan Taliban.

With Rebecca Tapscott


Rebel Inc.: Tracing the Aestheticization of State-Building 

With Asees Puri

State-building is often represented as a “project” by those doing it - one with a linear framework and a definitive achievable outcome. Interestingly, the intended outcome - the state -  is increasingly represented as “processual”- non-linear, multiple and perennial. These representations interact (conflicting and complementing each other) in ecologies of academia and popular culture. In this paper, we trace this interaction and the aestheticization of state-building that is thus (re)produced, investigating the logic regimes that govern state-building initiatives. In order to conduct this investigation, we analyze the video game Rebel Inc., juxtaposing it with a narrative of speculative fiction written by a practitioner who participated in state-building in Afghanistan for a little over 5 years. These representations are not just instantiations of the aestheticization of ‘the state’ and its construction, they also make visible the global circuits of (in)security logics that determine what state-building (and the state) “should” be, and the counter-narratives that push against these conceptualizations. We argue that these conflicting visions render  visible the continually negotiated horizons of possibility for the conceptualization and practice of state-building.