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Working Papers


Reconceptualizing the Social Contract - In Contexts of Conflict, Fragility and Fraught Transition

Dr Erin McCandless

This working paper makes a case for rethinking the social contract concept in the contemporary era, in countries affected by conflict and/or fragility.

Inspired by policy efforts to rethink the concept as a means to better address the challenges of peacebuilding and statebuilding, the paper aims to theoretically ground the topic and offer a heuristic framing that supports the evolution of scholarship, policy and practice. It is laid out in the following sections:

Introduction: This section sets the context, pointing to the deep challenges undermining the state from above, transnationally and below. It highlights limitations of policy efforts in areas of peacebuilding and statebuilding to address these and the scholarly critiques surrounding their strategic design and delivery – all of which suggest the need for greater focus on the social contract.

Enduring themes of the social contract: Historical and contemporary theorising efforts are scanned and their limitations assessed, making a case for the concept’s rich applicability across time and geopolitical space. This is rooted in enduring themes and questions that transcend the classical liberal framings upon which its utility is often dismissed.

Scholarship and policy directions supporting reconceptualisationThis section examines critical themes and debates, unpacking rising bodies of evidence and areas of emerging policy consensus, that arguably underpin a focus on forging resilient social contracts for sustaining peace. Disciplines including political theory, political economy, political science, peace and conflict studies, sociology and anthropology are engaged.

What is missing: Gaps and weaknesses in these bodies of literature and policy thinking that, if brought into dialogue, might better serve a fuller conceptual framing are examined.

Annex: This section presents a conceptual framing that is guiding an 11-country research and policy dialogue project.2 This framing proposes three ‘drivers’ of a national social contract as a heuristic device – one that is resilient, with virtuousmovement  towards attaining and sustaining inclusive peace. These are that:

i) political settlements and social contract-making mechanisms are becoming more inclusive and are progressively addressing core conflict issues; ii) institutions are delivering in increasingly effective and inclusive ways; iii) there is broadening and deepening social cohesion both horizontally (between individuals and groups in society) and vertically (between state and society).

This framing paper, and the wider project it lays a foundation for, seeks to build the intellectual lineage and practical utility of the social contract concept in ways that encompass core values and mechanisms associated with the social contract historically, yet with attention to the dynamism and adaptability needed to address contemporary challenges and realities.

Download the paper here.

Forging Resilient Social Contracts: A Pathway to Preventing Violent Conflict and Sustaining Peace

‘Forging Resilient Social Contracts: Preventing Violent Conflict and Sustaining Peace’ is an 11-country research and policy dialogue project that aims to revitalise the social contract amidst conflict and fragility and to advance policy and practice for preventing violent conflict and for achieving and sustaining peace.

The comparative findings provide evidence and insight into what drives social contracts that are inclusive and resilient, and how they manifest and adapt in different contexts, transcending what are often unsustainable, ephemeral elite bargains into more inclusive ones, with durable arrangements for achieving and sustaining peace. The project involves international scholars, policy advisers and authors from the countries examined: Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Colombia, Cyprus, Nepal, Somalia, South Sudan, South Africa, Tunisia, Yemen and Zimbabwe. The project activities took place from 2016 to mid-2018 and include case research in these countries, a series of policy and scholarly dialogues1
and this summary.

The project gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)/Oslo Governance Centre (OGC), the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) in Berlin and New York, the Julian J. Studley Fund of the
Graduate Program of International Affairs at The New School in New York, in this work.

 Resilient social contracts - findings

Forging A Resilient National Social Contract: The Case of Zimbabwe


By Showers Mawowa, Southern African Liaison Office (SALO) and University of Pretoria, Department of Political Sciences & Erin McCandless Wits School of Governance, University of Witwatersrand

This briefing provides a summary analysis of findings from a Zimbabwe case study of an 11-country research and dialogue project that examines what drives a resilient national social contract in countries affected by conflict, fragility, or with unresolved political settlements. The research argues that Zimbabwe’s attempts at political settlement have failed to address core issues driving conflict emanating from the colonial rule. They have also failed to provide an inclusive basis for a nationally owned social contract. Policy recommendations suggest critical pathways towards this end, including transforming Zimbabwe’s deep state and related institutions, harnessing Zimbabwe’s resilience capacities and strengthening social cohesion.

Resilient Social Conctracts_Zim_case study

Elite vs. Everyday Social Contract in Bosnia and Herzegovina: From Two Social Contracts to One


By Roberto Belloni, University of Trento, Italy & Jasmin Ramović, University of Manchester

The Dayton Peace Agreement ended the violence in Bosnia-Herzegovina – but it also solidified antagonistic political identities leading to the creation of two social contracts: an ‘elite social contract’ involving primarily political elites of the main ethnic groups and an ‘everyday social contract’ involving ordinary citizens trying to manage a complex social and economic environment.

The first social contract is hegemonic, although alternative, non-nationalist views are slowly emerging. Grassroots
groups, the surviving remnants of inter-ethnic coexistence, the integrating pull of market forces and the presence of a large diaspora all constitute resources for the creation of a national resilient social

Resilient Social Contracts

Social Contract-building for Peace: Dissonant Duello of Subnational Social Contracts in Cyprus


By Dr Alexandros Lordos & Dr Ilke Dagli Hustings Centre for Sustainable Peace and Democratic Development (SeeD)

The protracted conflict in Cyprus produced two competing governance structures that nurtured their own competing and ethnocentric subnational social contracts for almost five decades.

Competing loyalties of the two communities and their dependence on their subnational social contracts undermines the peacemaking efforts’ capacity to design a unifying and resilient social contract that goes beyond ethnocentrism under a federal blueprint. Ethnocentrist social contracts and institutional arrangements have evolved and become entrenched through the peace process, creating strong structures of inclusion and exclusion.

The over-dependence of the peace process on high-level negotiations and their failure to effectively address the core conflict drivers, coupled with institutional discrimination of rival governance structures, have not created a conducive environment for broadening and deepening social cohesion across the communities. The case of Cyprus illustrates the importance and interconnectedness of the three drivers of resilient social contract making in reconciling the two rival subnational social contracts in pursuit of a sustainable peace settlement, notably by broadening and deepening the political process, by fostering more inclusiveness in institutions and by building trust as follows.

Resilient Social Contracts_Cyprus case study

Forging A Resilient Social Contract (SA): States & Societies Sustaining Peace in Post-Apartheid Era


By Masana Ndinga-Kanga, Hugo van der Merwe and Daniel Hartford, Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation

Since the transition to democracy began in the early 1990s, the South African political settlement has ushered into policy a progressive framework for the realisation of socio-economic rights, enshrined by the Constitution. However, this political settlement has failed to translate into an economic and social settlement that would see access to livelihood strategies and equitable access to service delivery improve in a manner that addresses historical grievances. As a result, these core issues of conflict underlying South Africa’s transition render a fragile social contract – vulnerable to divisions of stark
inequality along race, class and gender lines. Tracing these two core conflict issues through historical and current analysis, this paper argues that the interaction of the political settlement and the ability of institutions to deliver services effectively has negatively affected state-society relations and the legitimacy of the reconciliation agenda meant to support inter-group cohesion.

Resilient Social Contracts_SA case study

Avoiding Peace Pitfalls in Yemen: Prospects for Developing a Resilient Social Contract


By Fatima Abo Alasrar

This paper provides an analysis of findings from the case of Yemen, as part of an 11-country research and dialogue project that examines what drives a resilient national social contract in countries affected by conflict, fragility or unresolved political settlements. Yemen’s multi-dimensional civil war and proxy war manifested immediately after the highly celebrated National Dialogue Conference (NDC) that was brokered by the Gulf States and the international community. Despite the thoughtful approach and inclusive process, it was not sufficient to build enduring peace. Different regional groups and political elites in Yemen, including some who have politicised their grievances, deepened divisions, proving that a power grab, and not a resilient social contract, is their priority.

In failing to reach a nationally driven and locally based political settlement, Yemen exemplifies the risk of not addressing fundamental grievances that make it even more difficult to achieve a more permanent, resilient social contract and that might even conflict. This paper addresses the core conflict issues and the degree to which competing narratives and informal politics affected the making of a resilient social contract.

Resilient Social Contracts_Cyprus case study

Challenges and Opportunities of the New Peace Agreement in Colombia


By Angelika Rettberg Universidad de los Andes Bogotá – Colombia

After more than 50 years of conflict, the Colombian Government and the leftist group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) signed a peace agreement in November 2016. The agreement— and the negotiations leading up to the final document—created an opportunity for addressing historical inequalities in the Colombian political system and its socio-economic structures.

However, Colombian society remains deeply divided, as is common during processes of political settlement. Some of the aspirations of the peace agreement may be too ambitious and generate expectations that exceed the capacities of existing state institutions. In addition, opposition by political and social actors has been significant. At the same time, Colombia has made more progress on the state- and peacebuilding front than many other countries with a similar conflict background. This paper argues that the unfinished business of building a comprehensive, inclusive and ultimately resilient social contract in Colombia explains many of these tensions, which are examined through the lens of three postulate ‘drivers’ of a social contract, and how two ‘core conflict issues’ are addressed: the distribution and use of land, and illicit crops and the drug trade.

Resilient Social Contracts_Colombia_Case study

The Elusive ‘New Nepal’: Democratisation, Ethnic Politics & Social Contract-making


By Subindra Bogati, Nepal Peacebuilding Initiative & Timothy D. Sisk University of Denver

Nepal’s decade-long process from 2005 to 2015 of ending its civil war through a comprehensive peace agreement, constitution-making and overall democratisation of the state portend a ‘New Nepal’ social contract to upend centuries of exclusive rule and a hierarchically ranked society.

This paper considers how the newfound social contract has been forged and the ways in which a sustainable contract
remain elusive. While agreements have been reached and the state restructured, underlying economic and social transformation will be much more difficult to achieve.

The paper evaluates Nepal as a deeply plural society in transition from a caste-based monarchy to democracy with analysis of efforts to strengthen institutions, build greater trust within society and address longstanding inequalities. A
truly ‘New Nepal’ will require deep-seated economic and social transformation, and whether the hardwon social contract will be resilient over time remains to be seen.

Resilient Social Contract_Nepal Case study

South Sudan: The Quest for a Resilient Social Contract


By Luka Kuol, PhD Africa Center for Strategic Studies, National Defense University, USA University of Juba, South Sudan Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), Norway

Since achieving its hard-won independence, South Sudan has become a theatre of violent conflict and human misery and one of the most fragile countries in the world. Examining this crisis and prospects for achieving and sustaining peace through the lens of social contract, this article argues that the way the ruling elites managed the transition to statehood, including the constitution-making process, has produced a social contract that has failed to address and instead accentuated the core conflict issues that contributed, among other factors, to the eruption of civil war in 2013.

Although the 2015 Peace Agreement provides an opportunity for the people of South Sudan to forge the much-needed
social contract, its revitalisation by new agreements recently signed in Khartoum during July 2018 that
maintain status quo and reward those with guns will be a recipe for another cycle of violence that may
drag the country to the trajectory of a Hobbesian state.

Resilient Social Contracts_South Sudan case study