SOAS University of London

Department of Development Studies

Borderlands, brokers and peacebuilding in Sri Lanka and Nepal: War to peace transitions viewed from the margins

This project aims to generate a better understanding of contested war to peace transitions in Nepal and Sri Lanka with a view to improving statebuilding and peacebuilding interventions in post-war contexts in South Asia and beyond. Its originality lies in an approach that takes the putative margins of the state as the primary vantage point for understanding and explaining the political and economic dynamics of 'post war' transition. By so doing it inverts the top down, centrist orientation commonly applied to studies of (and policy responses to) post-war statebuilding and reconstruction.

The overarching research question is: How have trajectories of post war transition been shaped by, and influenced, processes of political and economic change at the margins of the state? This is further divided into three sub questions:

  • What are the specific ways in which peripheral zones influence post-war peacebuilding and reconstruction processes at the national level?
  • What are the roles and impacts of borderland brokers on these processes?
  • How do international peacebuilding and reconstruction interventions influence war to peace transitions and with what effects for borderland communities and marginalized groups?

It is hypothesized that different kinds of state margins, and variations in institutional arrangements and brokering relations that connect the centre to the periphery, have a major influence on the dynamics of post-war stabilization and reconstruction, and hence the sustainability of post war transitions. This project builds upon the relevant political economy literature but is enriched by an approach which deals explicitly with the 'geographies of contestation' in post-war contexts. In-depth and grounded comparative research will involve a hitherto unexplored comparison between classical transnational borderlands, spanning an international boundary, and frontier zones on the margins of an island state. This project will show how borderlands are linked to, and help shape, the national system and the complex institutional entanglements and brokerage arrangements linking centre and periphery that play a defining role in shaping post war transitions.

The project, by combining political economy and political geography/ecology approaches, will lead to new understandings about how post-war orders are negotiated, consolidated or contested. It will contribute to the growing literatures on the political economy and political ecology of conflict and peacebuilding, as well as the inter-disciplinary field of border studies. It will generate new policy insights about the emergence of legitimate political order in the aftermath of war. The practical implications extend to a number of policy domains including: the facilitation of peace processes; the role of decentralisation in statebuilding processes; and the significance of spatial inequalities in development programming.

The project seeks to bridge gaps between theory and policy, by engaging with policymakers and practitioners throughout the course of the project, and by establishing close links between and within academic communities based in the global North and the global South. The project seeks to maximise impact by building on the PI and CI's long-standing links with International Alert, a leading international peacebuilding NGO. The project has been designed to ensure the research responds to and feeds into policy debates by constituting an international advisory group and holding a series of workshops in UK, Nepal, Sri Lanka and India. The project will produce the following key outputs:

  • One edited volume drawing together key findings.
  • Five journal articles - two with a country-based perspective, and three thematic.
  • A set of policy guidelines for policymakers and practitioners.
  • A final project report and four background papers.
  • A set of short 'borderlands' papers in local languages, exploring the local implications of the research


Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

Total award: £392,847


November 2015 – October 2017

Principal Investigator:

Jonathan Goodhand (SOAS, University of London)


Telephone: +44(0)20 7898 4483

Collaborating institutions:

  • University of Bath
  • Martin Chautari, Nepal
  • Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA), Sri Lanka
  • International Alert