International Research Network

Cultures of Intervention


We want to know what really happens in the societies during the months and years following an international intervention. We are more   interested in the consequences in and for the society than in the state-building process itself, though both are inseparably linked. Our research thus  focuses on the effects and impact of humanitarian and military interventions on the intervened as well as on the interveners themselves. Very often, we prefer inductive methods and empirical research to abstract models and narrowing normative approaches.
(Please note that for the purpose of clarity we are regularly using the term „the intervened“ for persons and groups subject to the intervention. We use “the interveners” when referring to the concrete actors in an intervention.)

Research interest of the Cultures of Intervention project is the relationship between the interveners and the local societies of intervention with its culture-generated conflicts that emerge in the course of continuing post-conflict structures.

Thematic issues are:

  • The collusive relation between intervened societies and the cultural and social texture of the intervening groups.
  • The emergence of a new type of “Follow-up Conflicts” stemming from the intervention or from the collusive relation and not directly linked to the causes of the original conflict (“Root-Conflicts”)
  • The widening gap between developments on system level, e.g. state-building and in the life-world of the intervened, e.g. new forms of society building.
  • The relevance of the homeland discourse in the countries of origin of the interventionists
    Legal pluralism and customary law; matters of trust, tradition and lifestyle under the influence of the intervention

Today a broader conception of humanitarian intervention prevails: Formerly defined as coercive action by at least one international actor in a state without the consent of its authority and with the purpose to end violence, humanitarian interventions are now understood not only to bring peace but to establish a new and peaceful social order in the intervened region. Accordingly, what has formally been characterized as peacekeeping is now labelled as state-building or even society-building.

However, social and political reforms are not intrinsically promoting peace: although the creation of a free and just society will supposedly bring peace and security in the long term, the first years after an intervention turn out to be turbulent. Some intervened may be disappointed by the slow
progress of reforms while at the same time powerful segments of the intervened population may oppose the process of rebuilding in general. More importantly, the interveners fail to be aware of their involvement with the intervened society. The arrival of the interveners turns the local society
(or societies) into a society of intervention, including both, the interveners and the intervened. For example: “Our” words and ideas are used to formulate “their” truly local concepts, e.g., of a national educational system or of an “own” institutionalization of social equity and so on. A large-scale humanitarian intervention produces a new culture: a set of symbols, norms and patterns of behaviour which is needed for any interaction.

Thus, humanitarian interventions cause all-encompassing re-adjustments of the social order in the intervened regions that result in a multitude of conflicts. It is crucial for any political strategic planning to take into account the cultural effects of interventions, especially since local ownership has become a central leitmotiv of modern statebuilding-missions.