Call for Papers: Bureaucracy and Conflict? Culture, Institutions, and Missing Links

This spring Jennifer Murtazashvili (GSPIA) and B. Guy Peters (Political Science) will host an international conference exploring the relationship between bureaucracy and conflict. The conference is supported by GSPIA, the Ford Center for Human Security, the Ridgway Center for Security Studies, and the Global Studies Center.  Deadline, October 15, 2017

Bureaucracy and Conflict? Culture, Institutions, and Missing Links

Call for Papers


Graduate School of Public and International Affairs

Department of Political Science

University of Pittsburgh

March 2018

This conference intends to shed light on the unexplored links between bureaucracy and conflict in fragile states. It intends to do so by placing historical legacies, path dependencies, and institutional incentives at the center of attention to produce insights into 1) how bureaucratic legacies affect the emergence of conflict as and 2) the ability of states to rebuild themselves after peace has been established. 

To a large extent, the literature on conflict and post-conflict state building has neglected issues related to bureaucracies and public administration. Instead, the clear majority of the institution-building literature in the social sciences, and comparative politics in particular, focuses on the construction and variation in democratic institutions after war examining how engineering of electoral institutions or timing of elections affects political stability.

Some attention has been paid to governance outcomes in the challenging environments of weak or failed states.. Over the past decade scholars of international relations have turned attention to “liberal peacebuilding” or “post-conflict reconstruction.” Although this literature has provided some clues as to how sequencing of international assistance affects governance outcomes, it is primarily focused on measuring success or failure of international efforts in fragile states, and says less about structures of these states or the behaviors of actors within the states. 

Scholars working in this area frequently point to the dysfunction within international organizations or aid agencies to explain why efforts at reconstruction  fail to live up to their promise, but they are often silent on similar dysfunctions in domestic bureaucracies. In the long term, a focus on international efforts fails to tell the whole story, because it is possible for international programs to succeed, while domestic bureaucratic institutions struggle. This is frequently because international efforts create parallel governance structures that may crowd out domestic bureaucracies.

But it is crucial to understand the role that bureaucracies can play in generating and/or ameliorating conflict within fragile societies,  We know that these bureaucracies have been argued to have a number of dysfunctions—corruption, over-centralization, segmentation, inefficiency, and unrepresentativeness to name but a few—but we understand less about the linkages of the characteristics of these structures to conflict than we should.  This linkage is important for our academic understanding of these issues and may also be important for the design of institutions and programs for reconstruction. 

This conference will explore how long-standing or even newly created bureaucratic organizations provide incentives for individuals and groups to challenge the state or other groups in a violent manner. Although the academic literature on causes of political violence have long attributed colonial influence as an important driver of conflict and other outcomes such as inequality and economic growth, this conference seeks to move beyond economic and political outcomes to explore how bureaucratic organization affects governance outcomes in fragile environments. 

Some questions we confront in the conference may include the following: 

  • Are some bureaucratic systems more prone to producing violent conflict than others? If so, why? 
  • To what extent do (pre-)existing bureaucratic structures prevent state consolidation from re-emerging when civil conflicts come to an end?  
  • How are countries able to overcome path dependencies, particularly in bureaucracies, that drive conflict to secure durable peace? 
  • What explains variation in bureaucratic change after civil conflict? Does bureaucratic change affect governance outcomes or does it precipitate a return to violence? 
  • Are certain governance reforms more important than others in averting conflict or preventing it from reemerging? Does sequencing of bureaucratic reforms matter? 

Application Deadline

Paper proposals (500 words) addressing the conference theme should be sent electronically to Jennifer Murtazashvili [] and to Guy Peters [] by October 15, 2017. 


The organizers anticipate that the papers produced for this conference will be published as a special volume of an edited academic journal. 


The venue of the conference is the University of Pittsburgh.

Financial Support

The conference organizers anticipate funding to assume responsibility for most on-site costs for the selected participants. The conference organizers will cover the accommodation costs and airfare (2 nights) of the participants. Breakfasts, lunches, and dinners will be provided.



Graduate School of Public and International Affairs
3601 Wesley W. Posvar Hall, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15260